The Washington Huskies came into Tempe last year as a top-five team. They left disappointed as the Arizona State Sun Devils beat them 13-7 to pull off the upset. Now, Herm Edwards’ team will travel to Seattle to play the Pac-12 favorite Huskies. Will reached out to our frienemy over at UW Dawg Pound and got answers from John Sayler.
1.) Obviously, the Sun Devils came up with the big upset last year. What do the Huskies need to improve on from that game to avoid losing to an unranked Arizona State for the second straight year?
Jake Browning was not good, the offensive line played possibly their worst game of the season, the punt team elected to allow a free rusher resulting in a blocked punt deep in UW territory, and although the defense played well, they couldn’t get the stop they needed at the end of the game. Toss in season-ending injuries to two of Washington’s best players and you’ve got a pretty damn shitty trip to the desert.
But I give ASU credit for that game. Todd Graham is known for being blitz happy, but instead the Sun Devils showed tons of pressure but never really brought it. They just flat out won the line of scrimmage when the Huskies had the football. Manny Wilkins made no big mistakes. ASU came to play last year and Washington pretty much did not.
I don’t expect that to happen this year. I think Chris Petersen’s team doesn’t feel like they have played a complete game yet this season, and they are hungry and motivated. Arizona State will need to bring their A++ game.
2.) A lot of people seem to be frustrated with quarterback Jake Browning’s play this year and probably a bit from last year as well. It’s unlikely they’d bench him, but what can be done to make sure his play isn’t what loses Washington a game?
I’m a Jake Browning fan and I am frustrated. However, unlike those calling for him to be benched I appreciate what he does to help the Huskies win games, and he’s won a lot of them. Last week at Utah he made a couple really bad plays while under pressure. He got away with it a few times until finally his luck ran out and he tossed a ball right to a Ute defensive lineman. But he also made some phenomenal plays. They don’t look phenomenal because it’s the kind of thing the average fan doesn’t see: Eye manipulation of defenders and precise throws that are exactly on time. You don’t see one of Browning’s receivers take a big hit because he throws them away from danger and into open field. He’s just a damn good quarterback who looks a little awkward at times. Sometimes I think fans value pretty, athletic plays over quality quarterback play. I can pretty much guarantee you that Chris Petersen is nowhere near benching Browning. That is not to say he has not developed some really shitty pocket habits. That needs to be corrected. Some people think he can’t correct it and it’s “just who he is.” I don’t buy that. Everyone can get better.
3.) The last few seasons the Washington secondary has put out a handful of players to the next level of the NFL. Who is the next guy(s) in the Huskies defensive backfield that could join that club? And how will they be used to slow down wide receiver N’Keal Harry?
UW is really loaded in the secondary, and it’s a tossup between safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback (and Arizona native) Byron Murphy for who is the best of this group. Those guys are probably both first round picks next year. Safety Jojo McIntosh is the enforcer (he will be drafted), Jordan Miller plays opposite Murphy and he will be drafted. Myles Bryant might not be an NFL prospect due to his diminutive size, but as far as college players go, he’s a stud too. UW played seven DBs on many snaps last week against Utah, and I’m not sure Utes QB Tyler Huntley could see any of them. UW was just sitting back, waiting for Huntley to telegraph his short throws, and punishing whoever caught the ball.
Harry poses a different challenge and I don’t think you shut that guy down really. Murphy is his longtime buddy and wants to cover him the whole game. Co-Defensive Coordinator and DB coach Jimmy Lake will have a plan in place to try to minimize Harry’s role, but he’s a really special player so that is easier said than done. I expect extra attention to be payed to Harry and UW will make Manny Wilkins choose another target more often than not.
4.) Herm Edwards said that ASU might practice in the bubble this week to attempt to get used to the crowd noise of Husky Stadium. Edwards never uses that bubble, even when it’s 115 degrees outside. Can you describe the atmosphere of Husky Stadium a little bit?
It’s loud. The metal rafters that keep fans dry on rainy Seattle gamedays also direct all of the noise directly onto the field. Opposing offenses can’t hear shit. When I used to go to games in the old stadium it was kind of scary how the stands would shake as fans stomped their feet to make noise. The new stadium doesn’t do that, but the fans are closer to the field so the noise is still prominent. A 7:30 start will have the stands a little emptier, but it will still be a rocking Husky crowd. As you probably know, Husky Stadium sits right on the shore of Lake Washington, so it’s a one-of-a-kind game experience.
5.) As an outside Pac-12 perspective, what is your take of this Herm Edwards --we’ll call it experiment-- that is going on in Tempe?
I have to admit that it was pretty strange when I first heard that ASU hired a 64-year old former NFL coach who has been out of coaching for 10 years to revamp the program. But obviously the Arizona State brass was looking for a culture change, and who am I to judge them? The proof will be in the pudding. According to the “experts” (meaning scouts who aren’t good enough to get actual scouting jobs but get hired by recruiting sites), Arizona St. has recruited about as well as UW over the past five years, but the last three seasons were not up to standard with an 18-20 record. We’ll see what Herm is able to do with what appears to be plenty of talent.
6.) Score prediction? What goes right, what could go wrong?
I like the Huskies to win this one, but I wont be surprised if it is closer than UW fans want, at least for a while. Manny Wilkins is no slouch and he’s a senior, so he won’t be intimidated. ASU will bring the heat at Jake Browning, so there’s your “what could go wrong.”
What could go right is UW establishes the running game, ASU can’t establish theirs, and UW runs away with it. I think it will be a little of both.
I’ll go UW 31, ASU 13