The Washington Huskies (9-1, 6-1 in Pac 12) will host the Arizona State Sun Devils Saturday night (5-5, 2-5) as both teams have postseason aspirations on the line. The game will air at 5:30 p.m., Mountain Standard Time on FOX.
Last week, Chris Peterson’s program fell to the USC Trojans 26-13 for its first loss of the season, a result that will surely hinder the Huskies’ ability to remain in the College Football Playoff picture. While the Trojans capitalized on a couple key mistakes from the Washington defense and quarterback Jake Browning, the Huskies are still an elite team brimming with talent all over the field.
Here’s what you need to know about the Huskies:
The Top Dawg
We’ve said it many times before, but it’s worth repeating: the 2016 Pac-12 conference is quietly loaded with emerging talent at the quarterback position. The Sun Devils have faced the likes of Josh Rosen (for about a quarter), Davis Webb, and Luke Falk, all of whom are accurate passers that can also burn teams deep in the secondary. However, the Sun Devils haven’t faced the best quarterback (and player) in the conference, Jake Browning.
Many experts predicted the Huskies to finish at the top of the Pac-12 North, and likely win the conference behind solid play at quarterback from Browning, but very few thought he would have the season he’s had in his sophomore year.
Through his first nine games, Browning had 38 total touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback efficiency rating of 202.79. Contrary to the scheme being run by Mike Leach in Pullman with Washington State, the Huskies don’t run a spread offense. Browning had been able to produce incredible numbers in a more pro-style offense relying on a heavy rushing attack with sophomore phenom running back Myles Gaskin.
The Devils have beaten solid quarterbacks in Josh Rosen and Davis Webb, but Rosen was taken out of the game early with an injury and Webb just threw two many turnovers. Over the season, Browning has been able to avoid pressure and make smart decisions in the red zone, making the Huskies offense extremely difficult to keep off the field.
While Browning’s résumé seems to point toward destruction in the Sun Devil secondary Saturday night, there is a ray of hope for the Maroon and Gold. According to Pro Football Focus, the Trojans were able to pressure Browning on 53 percent of his drop-backs, limiting his ability to set his feet and make accurate throws downfield. In fact, the sophomore quarterback’s passer rating under pressure Saturday night was a staggering 28.9. The Huskies offensive line seemed to fall apart against USC, letting defensive backs leak into the backfield even when the Trojans only rushed four.
The Sun Devils are massive underdogs in this game Saturday night, and the line currently sits at Washington -27. If ASU is going to have any chance of hanging with the Huskies in the game, it’s going to come down to Keith Patterson and Todd Graham, and just how creative they can get with their blitz packages. If junior linebackers Koron Crump and DJ Calhoun generate pressure on the inside and force Browning to make bad decisions with the football, the Sun Devils just might be able to force a turnover or two.
Bread and Budda
Washington hasn’t solely relied on a dominant offense (scoring a touchdown on 52.3% of possessions) to a 9-1 overall record, as the Huskies defense ranks in the top 20 of multiple major defensive categories.
It’s difficult to determine the dominant aspect of defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s unit, because the Huskies are solid in nearly every position on that side of the ball. Senior linebacker Joe Mathis (6 foot 2, 255 pounds) leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks; the secondary led by junior corner Sidney Jones has tallied 12 total interceptions; Budda Baker, the Huskies elite safety and top NFL prospect is keen on tossing top-40 freshman recruits to the ground:
Whew, Budda Baker abused Ronald Jones to put pressure on Darnold--forced a throw into coverage. Bierria tipped it and Rapp picked it. pic.twitter.com/mKKOYwpseW— Stephen Nelson (@Stephen__Nelson) November 13, 2016
Overall, the Huskies are easily the most complete team in the Pac-12, and Jake Browning is primed for a massive comeback game against the Sun Devils’ secondary. If ASU is going stand a chance Saturday night, it’s going to have to find a way past Washington’s elite linebacking core and pressure Browning into making bad decisions.