(14) Arizona State (5-1) at Washington (5-2) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Coming off a key win over Stanford, the 14th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils travel north to visit the Washington Huskies for a Pac-12 Conference bout.
Last season, the Sun Devils lost to Stanford twice, including a meeting in the Pac-12 title game. They got revenge last Saturday, defeating the Cardinal by a score of 26-10. The Sun Devils have now won back-to-back games over ranked conference opponents -- the other being a 38-34 decision against then No. 16 USC. They are also sporting a 5-1 overall mark and a 3-1 record in league action. A return trip to the conference championship game is still very much in play.
Washington is not flying as high, despite owning a solid 5-2 overall record through the first seven games of the Chris Petersen era. The Huskies were trounced, 45-20, by Oregon last weekend, marking their second loss in the last three games. They are now 1-2 in Pac-12 action, meaning they will need a lot help to get back into title contention.
If recent history is any indication, the Sun Devils should come out on top this weekend. Arizona State has won eight straight against Washington, allowing it to pull ahead in the all-time series, 16-15. The Sun Devils rolled to a 53-24 victory in last season's meeting.
It seems to be a week of excellent news for Arizona State, which should get back starting quarterback Taylor Kelly for this contest.
When asked if he thinks Kelly will be able to play against Washington, coach Todd Graham simply said, "I do."
Mike Bercovici took over under center when Kelley went down with a foot injury, throwing for 1,322 yards, 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions on 62 percent passing. However, getting Kelly back will be a major lift, due to his unique skill set. Kelly threw for 625 yards and six scores without a single pick in the three games before the injury, and he is still second on the team in rushing (168 yards, two TDs) despite missing three games,.
"I hated that he had to go through this," Graham said of Kelly. "He doesn't sit around feeling sorry for himself at all. He is working his tail off and he has been a great asset to Mike (Bercovici) and Coach Norvell in these times. We are just trying to win a championship. Everybody's individual needs take a backseat. It doesn't surprise me how he has handled it."
If Kelly can pick up where he left off it is a scary thought for the rest of the conference, as Arizona State is already ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in total offense (523.3 ypg), and third in scoring (38.7 ppg).
It is easy to post such impressive offensive numbers with the type of skill position players the Sun Devils have. Jaelen Strong (49 receptions, 689 yards, six TDs) is well on his way to All-Pac-12, if not All-America honors, on the outside, while D.J. Foster is a matchup nightmare. He has rushed for 612 yards and six scores, while adding 372 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions.
While the offense has been otherworldly, the defense has been rather mediocre for the Sun Devils, who rank near the middle of the Pac-12 in both total defense (425.2 ypg, sixth) and scoring defense (27.8 ppg, eighth). Part of the problem is a lack of pressure, with the Sun Devils accumulating only 12 sacks along with eight turnovers.
Not only did Washington struggle to stop Oregon last weekend, the Huskies also had major trouble when it came to moving the ball themselves. They finished with only 317 total yards. Despite Petersen's presence, they rank last in the Pac-12 in total offense (364.4 ypg).
"We made too many mistakes, we didn't convert on third down a lot, and we really didn't establish a run game or a passing game," Wide receiver Jaydon Mickens said of the offense's performance against Oregon. "It's disappointing, but back to the drawing board."
Mickens is right about the running game. The Huskies finished with 133 yards on 36 carries against Oregon, with Lavon Coleman limited to only 28 yards. Coleman has picked up 438 yards and a touchdown on 106 carries this season, but he just couldn't find the holes against the Ducks. In his defense, neither could anyone else, with the team combining for only three rushes of more than 10 yards.
Quarterback Cyler Miles had one of those runs, picking up 15 yards on one of his six rushing attempts. However, he was under constant duress and finished with only 13 total rushing yards. That just won't cut it, especially when he only threw for 147 yards and had a touchdown to match an interception. Miles has completed 66.2 percent of his pass attempts and his interception against Oregon was his first of the season, but he is averaging only 173.8 yards per game.
Mickens continues to be the mainstay in the passing game, with 32 receptions for 323 yards and two scores. John Ross may have more touchdown receptions (four) and receiving yards (373), but he is second on the team with only 16 receptions.
Washington's defense does one thing extremely well, at least most weeks. With Pac-12 sack leader Hau'oli Kikaha (12.5) and Danny Shelton (7.5) leading the way, the Huskies are second in the Pac-12 in quarterback takedowns (27). They are fifth in the conference in total defense (415.3 ypg).
This game has all the makings of a letdown for Arizona State, which is flying high following the big win over Stanford. However, with Kelly back in the fold the Sun Devils have a mobile quarterback, which could negate Washington's pass rush and keep the offense on its torrid pace.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 30, Washington 26