The Sun Devils will try and continue their new-found success on the defense Saturday against the Washington and the odds are in their favor. They've won eight straight over the Huskies, but it seems like anything can happen in the Pac-12 this season. That being said, the Huskies are a team capable of beating Arizona State and very well could if the Sun Devils don't play to their own strengths and exploit the Huskies' weaknesses. Here are the players to monitor for Arizona State and why:
The Sun Devils still plan to start Kelly Saturday, but Mike Bercovici could still see snaps as well. Todd Graham and Mike Norvell have both said that he was available, if needed, against Stanford last week, but opted for Bercovici instead. Now it's Kelly's turn again. The Sun Devil captain last saw the field over a month ago when he went down with a foot injury against Colorado. It's one thing to tell the media he's ready to go, it's quite another to show that on the field. The way in which Kelly cuts when planting with his right foot and the way he drops back to pass will be early signals as to whether or not he's truly 100 percent. How Bercovici might be used remains unclear.
Hardison will be seeing the field a lot because Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has said twice this week that he needs to play every snap. While he does have 19 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks, he still has room for improvement against Washington. Last week, almost all the pressure on Kevin Hogan and a lot of the sacks were from blitz pressure off the edge from the secondary or up the middle by the linebackers. Hardison needs to get more pressure off the line, but still contain Washington quarterback Cyler Miles. He'll also need to apply that pressure quickly as the Huskies get a lot of production on big plays ( John Ross averages 23.3 yards per catch). The line, including Hardison, will also face Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman, two different running backs with somewhat different skill sets for the Huskies. Graham also mentioned at practice Tuesday that he might experiment with Hardison in a Devilbacker role.
Brown had a breakout game against Stanford with six tackles and five pass breakups. He'll need to step up again against Washington. Stanford didn't take too many shots deep, and that's where Brown faltered before last week with blown coverages. The Huskies, however, aren't afraid to try and execute the big play. His coverage of John Ross will critical to the Sun Devils success. If he can continue to play shutdown defense at corner, it only benefits the maroon and gold by opening up more opportunities to blitz, which its no secret Todd Graham loves to do.
An under the radar receiver
Jaelen Strong had just three catches for seven yards against the Huskies last year. It was somewhat unexpected when Kevin Ozier had eight catches for 88 yards and Chris Coyle added five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. If history repeats itself, it could be a player like Cameron Smith, De'Marieya Nelson, or Kody Kohl with a big game if the Sun Devils utilize them on more underneath routes. Marcus Peters is lurking in the secondary for Washington and Shaq Thompson is a stud at linebacker which will make it difficult for Kelly in his first game back. Strong will obviously be the biggest focus for the Huskies and if Kelly can look underneath and find open options like Nelson or Kohl, they could have a big game.