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Q&A with UW Dawg Pound: Discussing Arizona State’s toughest test vs. No. 5 Washington

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The Husky view on this matchup.

NCAA Football: California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

We spoke with UW Dawg Pound editor John Sayler to preview the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) matchup against the Washington Huskies (6-0, 3-0) on Saturday night in Tempe.

House Of Sparky asks UW Dawg Pound

1. Jake Browning has led this team to 6-0, but isn't on the pace he was last season. Do you think he's getting overlooked? Is he a Heisman contender?

Sayler: Browning is an efficient QB, but not a spectacular one. His 26 total TDs (23 passing) vs. only 2 INT through six games a year ago are what got him on the Heisman radar. This season those numbers have been a little more human (17 total TDs, 3 INT), but his efficiency has been similar with a completion percentage over 70 and an average of 8.5 yards per pass attempt (without all the bombs to John Ross that padded that number in 2016). UW has a pretty balanced offense, and I don’t know if a non-dual-threat QB who throws less than 30 passes per game could ever amass the stats to win that award. Browning started so well last season that he has somewhat become a victim of his own success.

2. Dante Pettis seems like Browning's favorite target this season. Is he most dangerous on special teams or at wide receiver? What do Hunter Bryant be Will Dissly bring to the table?

Sayler: Pettis is as dangerous a punt returner as you will find, but just kick the ball high and short or out of bounds and you can neutralize him in the return game. That’s pretty much what opponents have chosen to do. But as a receiver, you have to cover him and that has not been easy for defenses so far.

Tight end wasn’t a position group that fans thought would be such a strength this season. Last year’s top TE Darrell Daniels moved on to the NFL and #1 TE Drew Sample was injured in the second game. Enter Dissly and Bryant who have emerged big time. Dissly is a converted defensive lineman who switched to tight end at the beginning of last season and played regularly as a blocking tight end. He has shown his pass-catching abilities this year with 10 receptions and a pair of touchdowns.

Our entire UW Dawg Pound staff seems to be taking credit for predicting a big week from true freshman Hunter Bryant against Cal last Saturday. Hardly a bold prediction after he grabbed 8 balls for 168 yards in his previous three games, but he really did go off last week with 9 catches for 121 yards and a TD. Jake Browning appears to have found his new favorite target.

3. The Huskies' defensive line already has 20 sacks this season after getting eight last game against Cal. What makes them so good?

Sayler: What makes them so good is the near-700 pounds of humanity in the middle of the defensive line. Vita Vea and Greg Gaines often play in a two-man defensive front while getting the push of 3 mere mortals. That allows Washington to send two more rushers (4 total) and have it look like a blitz the way they defeat the opponents’ offensive line. Dropping seven into coverage while rushing four and getting good pressure is the not-so-secret way to win in the passing game, and UW is getting that done.

4. Would you say Myles Gaskin is one of the most elite running backs in the conference? Why is he effective?

Sayler: Gaskin has rushed for over 1300 yards and double-digit TDs in each of his first two seasons at Washington while averaging 5.8 yards per tote. I don’t really have to say he is one of the best backs in the Pac-12 because the numbers do that for me.

Like most good tailbacks, he combines great vision with excellent lateral quickness and lower body strength. He is one of those guys that defenses think they have trapped, and yet he gets positive yards. Washington employs a lot of blocking schemes designed to create a big play, so you will see Gaskin caught for a loss more often than most top running backs.

5. What has surprised you the most out of this year's Washington Huskies? Do fans think this team is better than then CFB Playoffs team?

Sayler: The biggest surprise to me has been the outstanding play of the secondary despite losing three starters to the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL draft. Redshirt freshman corner Byron Murphy was living up to his billing as the top recruit of the Chris Petersen era before breaking his foot a few weeks ago. It’s been plug and play for DB coach Jimmy Lake as everyone he has run out there in the last few years seems to play at a really high level. It’s a solid group that will face their toughest challenge in terms of a talented, physical receiver on Saturday when they line up opposite N’Keal Harry.

I would say the jury is still out on how good this team is, mainly because they haven’t faced any top opponents so far. Their schedule has been very easy.

6. How big of a loss what losing Chico McClatcher for the rest of the season? Are there any other notable injuries hurting the Huskies?

Sayler: It was a pretty big blow when McClatcher went down in the Colorado game. He was used tremendously in the short passing game and no one else has stepped in to take his place quite as effectively on bubble/tunnel screens.

TE Drew Sample returned in a limited role last week and appears to be back from his leg injury. Besides Byron Murphy who will miss at least another month, reserve linebacker DJ Beavers has not played yet this season and it is unknown when he will be ready.

7. Score prediction?

Sayler: People make a lot of the fact that UW struggles in the desert, but honestly this team has not played well on the road early in games this year. Manny Wilkins is probably the best QB they have faced this season and he will need to capitalize if Washington gets off to another slow start. Eventually though, the advantage the Huskies have on both interior lines should surface and prove to be tough for Wilkins & the Sun Devil defense to deal with.

UW 45, ASU 17

UW Dawg Pound asks House of Sparky

1. It’s been quite a season for quarterback Manny Wilkins; from rumors of fans attacking him on social media for his terrible play to leading the Sun Devils to the (statistically) third most potent pass offense in the Pac-12. How would you assess his play this season? Where can he improve?

Destin: He has been phenomenal thus far for ASU. He went his first four games without throwing an interception and has stayed in the pocket far more than last year. That's why he's on pace for a 3,000-yard season. Now, he threw two picks against Stanford, which was a major hiccup. If anything, I would say he could improve late in the game in close situations. Wilkins failed to score when down late to San Diego State and took a sack instead of throwing it away late in the game when down by a touchdown to Texas Tech.

Madden: Wilkins has been fantastic for Arizona State. He's efficient, developing a strong deep ball and limiting his turnovers at an astounding rate compared to last season. One thing he can improve upon, however, is his execution un the run pass option. Last year, he often pulled the ball himself and became one of the best rushing threats on the team. This year, however, he seems hesitant to take it for himself.

2. N’Keal Harry is leading the team with his 34 receptions and looks like he is coming into his own this season. Jalen Harvey and Kyle Williams have also been very productive pass catchers. Please describe their rolls in the pass offense. How has the pass protection been?

Destin: The receivers are half the reason why Wilkins has improved so much this season. Harry is the most talented and is great with jump balls because of his huge frame (6-foot-4, 216 pounds). Williams is great for screens because of his speed. Harvey is nicknamed "Mr. First Down" because he has great hands. The senior hardly misses in the clutch. The pass protection has not been great. ASU is 127th in the nation, allowing 4.4 sacks per game.

Madden: On a normal passing play, Harry is always the first read and owns Wilkins' target share in the offense. Harvey is the slot technician and security blanket. Williams has been used all over the offense with sweeps, screens and deep balls. The pass protection has been a nightmare for ASU this season. It's looked passable at times but is often the worst aspect of the offense.

3. ASU still boasts a potent 1-2 punch in the running game with Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard. Who is likely to get the bulk of the carries? Should we expect to see a fair amount the “Sparky” package? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?

Destin: Expect the Sparky formation a ton when Wilkins struggles (like he did against Stanford). Ballage has gotten more carries, but Richard is starting to look like himself after an injury in week one that sidelined him for a few weeks. The running game should be great, but the offensive line hasn't allowed it to be. Then again, ASU ran for a season-high 214 yards against Stanford and may be able to keep things rolling on Saturday.

Madden: I honestly don't believe the coaching staff truly understands how to properly utilize both of their backs to their full potential. It's often extremely unpredictable in terms of who gets carries. Sometimes Ballage will open the first half and we won't see Richard until the third quarter, or Richard will have 15 carries and Ballage gets a few from the sparky formation. An extremely poor offensive line is likely to blame for most of this, and the lack of identity in terms of a gameplan has really hurt the Sun Devils.

4. Zane Gonzelez is gone and the placekicking duties have fallen on freshman Brandon Ruiz. How has the youngster looked? Who are the top kick returners? How has the kick coverage and the rest of the special teams performed for the Sun Devils?

Destin: Ruiz is six for nine on the season and has been somewhat inconsistent, but made a game winning field goal to beat then-No. 24 Oregon and hit from 52 yards out in his first career kick, so he has shown tons of potential. He'll be as good if not better than Gonzalez. Ballage has returned kicks and Ryan Newsome has returned punts. Neither of them have looked great. Ballage is average, returning kicks for about 20 yards each return. On the other hand, ASU is returning punts for a two-yard average.

Madden: Ruiz has been delivered a mixed bag type of performance so far this season, converting just six of his first nine field goal attempts. He did take a step in the right direction against Oregon a couple weeks ago as he went 3/3 and nailed a game-winner, though. Graham has expressed extreme confidence in the freshman and he should just get better and better.

5. The ASU defense has allowed over 36 points and nearly 500 yards per game. Is it better than the numbers indicate? Should we expect to see the signature Todd Graham blitzes Saturday? Who are some key defenders to watch?

Destin: I would say it is better than the numbers say. The thing is, ASU usually runs more plays than its opponent, but has had trouble giving up big plays to big running backs (Bryce Love and Rashaad Penny.) You'll see some blitzes, but don't expect too many sacks. Linebacker and sack specialist Koron Crump is out for the season and ASU didn't compile a single sack against Stanford. Watch cornerback Kobe Williams and linebacker DJ Calhoun though. Calhoun hasn't missed a tackle this season for ASU and leads the Sun Devils with 48 tackles. Williams is just a speedy, but short corner. He's had ASU's only defensive score this season with a 49-yard pick six in week one.

Madden: It's exactly as bad as the numbers indicate. The big play, inconsistent tackling and huge 200+ rushing yard games issues still linger with the Sun Devils. Graham seems to have handed the reigns to his defense almost entirely to Phil Bennett, but yes, Bennett loves to execute zone blitzes. Getting to Browning and co. may be the only way ASU has a shot at the upset.

6. Speaking of Graham, is the fanbase still behind him? What does this team need to do to keep Graham at ASU?

Destin: Not really. If he does any worse than 6-6, the majority of ASU fans will demand he leaves, but I don't think he gets fired unless he finishes the season 4-8 or worse.

Madden: There was a lot of confidence restored after the victory against Oregon, but in light of recent the Ducks’ results, the significance of that win should be brought into question. I would definitely say that the majority of the fanbase is not behind Graham. He needs a bowl berth at the very least to keep his job.

7. The Huskies haven’t won in Tempe since 2001. What is your prediction for this game?

Destin: 31-14, U Dub.

Madden: Time to buck some trends! Washington's strengths play straight into the Devlis' weaknesses, this one should get ugly. Let's go UW 40-13.