After watching the film of Washington’s game vs. Oregon last week, it is painfully obvious that the Huskies are a really good football team. Statistically, they are among the leaders of the Pac-12 in almost every category.
Defensively, Washington is statistically better than ASU, even after playing Oregon. The Huskies held Oregon to its lowest point total of the year and even made QB Marcus Mariota play in the fourth quarter for the first time this year.
Washington also has a balanced offense with a lot of weapons. Keith Price is a legitimate dual threat QB who is having a great year. RB Bishop Sankey is the nation’s leading rusher. The UW tight end is probably going to be the first TE picked in the NFL draft.
Overall, the Huskies are talented and hungry. The only real knock on this year’s team is penalties. They are ranked dead last in the conference when it comes to penalty yards per game. By the way, ASU is the first Washington opponent that is not undefeated.
Here are some keys to an Arizona State victory over the Huskies:
1) Win Third Down on Defense
Washington leads the Pac-12 in third down conversions (they are fourth in the nation). Former ASU offensive coordinator Rich Olsen once said “third down is football.” So true. Now, every coaching staff at every level takes a good look at third down. But the ASU staff and players would be wise to take a second look at the third down cutups in the film room. No matter how hard they try, most teams end up showing tendencies on third down, especially late in the game. And it can be very situational: third and short, third and medium, third and long, when winning, when losing, plus or minus side of the field, etc. But if you study film, you can find that on third down, coaches go back to plays they trust.
2) Look for Mismatches on UW Linebackers
In film study, it looks like the Washington defensive line is solid. Not stellar, but solid. They don’t make a lot of great plays, but they hold their ground and occupy blockers. The secondary is excellent. However, the UW linebackers have a hard time matching up with slot receivers and running backs in coverage. To be fair, Oregon does that to everybody. But ASU should try to do the same as the Ducks. The Sun Devils should attempt to make the Husky linebackers run with and chase down good athletes when they line up in trip sets or have RBs running bubbles and circle routes out of the backfield.
3) Isolate Jaelen Strong
ASU must get WR Jaelen Strong in single coverage as much as possible. Perhaps it could have trips/twins to one side and line up Strong wide as the lone receiver to the opposite side. Conceivably, this would force Washington to make a decision. They would either let one defender play Strong — inviting slants, comebacks and back shoulder fades — or provide help to handle him. Washington could either press Strong with a corner and leave a safety over the top, or let the corner play off and have a linebacker walked over to play underneath. Either way, it would cause Washington to pull a second defender away from the other action, presumably opening up room for ASU’s playmakers.
4) Let Taylor Kelly Run the Ball
Even though Taylor Kelly is the Sun Devil quarterback, he needs to be a running threat during this game. No, Kelly is not Marcus Mariota. However, the Ducks’ QB hurt Washington early with the zone read play when he kept the ball. The Husky defenders were caught chasing the running back. Later, Washington made an adjustment and had two guys chasing Mariota on that play. ASU needs the same adjustment from Washington, but they won’t get it if Kelly doesn’t make the right read and tuck it and run. Kelly has excellent running skills, which helps make him a big weapon and huge threat for any defense.
5) Tighten Up in Red Zone Defense
This mandate applies to every opponent. But it appears that Washington’s goal line/short red zone offense is average. Its biggest weapon in that situation is TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. He’s a big, shifty target down near the end zone. Still, if ASU can tighten up and hold Washington to field goals instead of TDs, it won’t matter how explosive the Husky offense is or how many yards they are racking up.
To close, Arizona State can win this game. The Sun Devils have the talent. They also have the coaching and the momentum. However, Washington could easily take control of the game as well. The Huskies are solid in all phases of the game. If they play inspired, they can cause problems for ASU.
The Sun Devils, of course, have to play with extreme passion, but must also remain under control with discipline and focus.