Both teams are on the verge of becoming Pac-12 contenders. Both teams are 4-2. Both teams are facing must-win situations.
To put it simply, Arizona State and Washington are in very similar positions. At the half way point of the year, their preseason goals are beginning to pan out or die. The winner on Saturday will feel confident, while the loser may need to reassess and develop new expectations.
Todd Graham rarely beats around the bush, and he admitted this is one of the biggest games of his career. I know Graham could be slightly exaggerating, but he seems to be telling the truth. On the other end, Steve Sarkisian needs to avoid losing three or more straight games for the first time since 2009.
Washington's hopes of the Pac-12 North crown aren't looking promising due to back-to-back loses against Stanford and Oregon. Their fate no longer rests in their own hands, but defeating the Sun Devils would help them fight another day. Falling to 1-3 in conference basically eliminates them from divisional supremacy because of the near perfect play by Oregon.
ASU doesn't have as tough of competition, headlined by UCLA, but it's hard to scoff at the No. 9 team in the nation. The Bruins are 5-0 overall and 2-0 in conference, meaning the Sun Devils can't afford to lose.
The famous Haber's Hunches went 1-2 again last week. That's two straight performances under .500, which is completely unacceptable.
In the midst of another round of disappointing results, I sit at 11-7 overall. I need to regain your trust as readers, and here's my best crack at it.
Bishop Sankey, the country's leading rusher, goes against the ASU struggling run defense. The matchup couldn't get any easier, right? Not so fast. Sankey will be productive but not unstoppable, and Marion Grice will go stride-for-stride.
After each practice throughout the week, it took a few seconds before Graham mentioned Sankey. I asked Graham about preseason All-American Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the answer mostly consisted of him addressing Sankey. Get the picture? The top priority will be slowing him down, and expect ASU to do so at all costs, even if it exposes the pass defense.
Grice began to get in his grove against Colorado, but his statistics were deceiving. 88 yards and two touchdowns don't adequately describe his quality effort. Grice didn't take one repetition during the second half because of the blowout, otherwise he probably would've surpassed 100 rushing yards (maybe 150 or 200) and got to pay dirt at least one more time. The Huskies' defensive line isn't special, so Grice has the opportunity to keep the train rolling.
I'm not saying Sankey and Grice are even runners, but the circumstances lead me to believe their statistic lines will be. If Graham sticks with his plan of challenging Keith Price, Sarkisian won't be afraid to let him air it out. The Washington offense can beat opponents in countless ways. If ASU consistently stacks the box, the Huskies are fine slightly abandoning the run and unleashing Price, which causes Sankey to be neutralized.
Beyond the obvious about Grice needing to rise to the occasion, tackling Sankey will be the key. It happens all too often. Defenders think Sankey is in their grasps, but suddenly he's trotting down the field. ASU has had continued problems wrapping up and that issue must come to an end against Sankey.
Second Hunch: ASU and Washington combine to score over 67 points
The Pac-12 conference is known for quarterbacks, fast-tempo offenses and game-changing playmakers. ASU and Washington are two of the main reasons why. The Sun Devils put up 44.2 points per game, which ranks 11th best in the nation. The Huskies put up 35.2 points per game, which ranks 36th best in the nation.
The fireworks will be going off early and often. It wouldn't be surprising if both teams ended up in the 40's, therefore surpassing 67 should be relatively easy. Last week Oregon and Washington combined to collect 69 points, and neither defense at Frank Kush Field Saturday compares to the Ducks.
Kelly and Price engage in an old fashioned shoot out? Indeed. I don't recommend betting at all, but taking the over here appears pretty safe. The list of LETHAL weapons for ASU are: Jaelen Strong, Chris Coyle, D.J. Foster and Grice. The list of LETHAL weapons for Washington are: Sankey, Seferian-Jenkins, Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams. Any time one of the above options touches the rock, the scoreboard may be changing.
If you aren't following my logic, the math provides the proof. There are no requirements more than basic addition. I'm 100 percent sure 45+32=77, and the final score will be closer to 77 than 67.
Final Hunch: The Washington defense will be difference (allow at least 7 less points)
I just ranted about the presumed shootout, but defense will be the deciding factor. The offenses line up. The special teams line up. The defenses don't line up. Washington clearly boasts a more proven defense than ASU.
There won't be many stops, yet Washington has the recipe to muster one up. The Huskies' defense surrenders only 19.8 points per game, and those numbers could be significantly better excluding Oregon. The Sun Devils make matters more precarious by allowing 27.2 points per game.
Kelly, Grice and more aren't going to phase Washington. There aren't any tougher challenges than facing the Marcus Mariota led Ducks. But for ASU, the Huskies' attack may be the best they've seen all season. If Tommy Rees could rip the Sun Devil secondary to shreds, then Price should succeed at an uncanny rate.
On paper, the Washington secondary and linebackers surpass the ASU secondary and linebackers. The defensive differences won't be on the stage often, but when it does, the Huskies will get the one stop the Sun Devil's couldn't.