Last season, the Sun Devils staged their biggest comeback in five years, rallying from 17 points down to beat the Huskies 27-17. After the loss, Washington head coach Chris Petersen said “if everything is not lined up just right, we have a hard time making plays.”
As evidenced by the success of his third season in Seattle thus far, that won’t be the case this time around. The Huskies are acclimated to everything Petersen desires his team to do, and coming off its first loss of the season, exacting revenge on the Sun Devils may be the perfect remedy to salvage a potential College Football Playoff campaign.
Head Coach: Chris Petersen
The Huskies’ offense leads the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging a whopping 44.8 points per game.
Much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, whose 37 passing touchdowns ranks second in Division I. Browning’s second-year growth has been reliant on his supporting cast, however Petersen’s varied offensive scheme is at the root of it all.
Where the ASU defense must be careful
The Huskies’ offense attacks defenses in as multiple ways as possible. Take a look at this breakdown by Ted Nguyen of Inside the Pylon about how Washington’s offense, during one series alone, utilized 11 different formations throughout an 11-play drive.
The Sun Devil defense must not only be prepared for the multitude of formations and plays being thrown at it, but remain disciplined at the back end. The Huskies have already made a poor secondary pay in Oregon earlier this year, dropping 70.
One area Browning has shown significant improvement is his downfield accuracy, despite not generating much velocity on his throws. When given the time, he does a great job of hitting his target in stride. Targets like John Ross and Dante Pettis, who consistently create separation from defenders downfield, have enabled him to do so often.
Ross himself poses a problem for ASU alone.
The junior is touted as a potential first-round NFL draft pick, and his ability to beat defenders off the line of scrimmage and get vertical, combined with his prowess with the ball makes him a threat any time he’s on the field. Look for Washington to use vertical route combinations to free up Ross underneath and in space.
Another element of Washington’s offense very much worth noting: The Huskies attempt at least one double pass per game. The ASU secondary must be on its toes.
Where the ASU defense has the advantage
While Browning has been good this season, he’s still only a sophomore and makes mistakes young signal-callers typically make.
The stats say when Browning faces pressure, he’s been among the best in the country throughout the course of the year. However, if the Sun Devils can chase Browning out of the pocket and throw on the run, they can change the tides.
Standing still in the pocket with time to throw, Browning is very good. Though, despite being a capable runner, he’s forced to rely on his accuracy and touch when on the move because he’s unable to create much zip, hanging passes in the air.
Last season, ASU’s aggressive defensive scheme pushed Browning to collapse. This may be the matchup Todd Graham and Keith Patterson decide to revert to their old ways and attempt to dictate what the Huskies’ offense does by incorporating a heavy-blitz approach.
Just like the its offense, the Washington defense leads the Pac-12 in scoring, holding opponents to 17.9 points per game.
There’s plenty of star power: Several Washington players will almost assuredly be drafted in either the 2016 or 2017 NFL Draft, including two who are currently sidelined with an injury. Nonetheless, it’s what Petersen has done with his talent which makes his defensive unit so good.
Where the ASU offense must be careful
Petersen’s defensive scheme doesn’t rely heavy blitzing against the pass, but rather timed rushes from different areas along the defensive front.
This piece written by Ryan Durkham of ITP dissects how various twists, stunts and delayed rushes enabled the Huskies’ defensive line to enjoy success against a larger Stanford front.
Even without the likes of Joe Mathis off the edge, the Washington defensive line is very active and stout. Against a young ASU offensive line, there could be issues, just as there were last week against Utah.
Just as there’s variation within the front four, the Washington secondary is just as multiple. With talented—and now experienced—secondary members such as Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker, it could be tough sledding for Manny Wilkins, not to mention the receivers to the outside.
The Huskies play plenty of single-high Cover 1 and Cover 3 zones, daring opponents to try their secondary while dropping an extra defender in the box to sully the run game.
For ASU, there’s legitimate reason to be nervous.
Where ASU has the advantage
It will be hard for the Sun Devils to try and replicate the gameplan USC implemented, mainly because quarterback Sam Darnold had arguably the game of his life, and his receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers and Co., along with his offensive line, made his life as easy as possible.
The advantage for ASU resides with its playcaller: Chip Lindsey. Varied, gutsy play-calling can keep the Sun Devils competitive against a team missing its best pass rusher, Joe Mathis, and best linebacker, Azeem Victor.
The next potential advantage is the fact the ASU offense features capable weapons of its own. Last season, Kalen Ballage ran for 92 yards and two scores on 11 carries against Washington. Can he provide the home-run spark again this year? If he can get going, the play-action game could become a factor for ASU.
Games Viewed: Washington vs. USC (2016, condensed), Washington vs. Utah (2016), Washington @ California (2016, condensed)