By Anthony Dion
The surprise came just over a year ago. Riding a two-game losing streak after consecutive games against Pac-12 North rivals Stanford and Oregon, each ranked in the top 10, the Huskies traveled south to Tempe, Arizona hoping to get back on track.
Instead, they were dealt a grievous loss, a 53-24 beating by the Sun Devils more akin to being hauled behind a woodshed than anything else. The loss sent UW reeling and carried the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 Championship game.
A year later, the setting nearly reprises itself. An unranked Washington (5-2, 1-2) team is set to take on No. 14 Arizona State after losing two out of three, both losses coming to the aforementioned Pac-12 North foes. This time around, the Huskies host the Sun Devils with eyes wide, fully understanding just what the Pac-12 South contender is capable of.
“Those guys are coming on strong,” Washington head coach Chris Petersen said. “I think it’s interesting because we keep seeing ranked teams after ranked teams.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for (Arizona State).”
Including last year’s loss, Washington has dropped eight straight to the Sun Devils. It enters this year’s clash with some uncertainty at quarterback, and at running back, where one of the four the Huskies started the season with is fully healthy.
Cyler Miles left Saturday’s 45-20 defeat to Oregon early in the fourth quarter with concussion-like symptoms, yielding to redshirt-freshman quarterback Troy Williams. Surprising, though it would be, Williams, who has been getting most, if not all, the first-team reps in practice this week, could make his first collegiate start Saturday.
As long as Miles passes the necessary concussion tests, Petersen made it clear he will be the starter. But no matter who starts, winning the game will rest on Washington’s ability to run the ball and play sound defense. Its ground game has been a severe disappointment after being one of Pac-12’s best run offenses in 2013. With Dwayne Washington (rib) and Lavon Coleman (shoulder) limited this week, Deontae Cooper and Shaq Thompson could see their work loads increase. Petersen knows it’s also important for the offensive line to show improvement.
“It’s a combination (of things) . . . Guys have to play better, that’s the bottom line. We’ve got to block better (to) give our guys a chance,” said Petersen, and he pointed to Oregon’s run offense as an example.
“I thought their (offensive) line did a really good job, and (Freeman) is big, fast and he runs hard. I think that’s what you’d like it to look like. If we can’t run the ball, and the team we are playing is running the ball well, it’s going to be trouble for us.”
While health is becoming an issue for the Huskies, the Sun Devils are re-energizing. Taylor Kelly, the Sun Devils’ senior quarterback, is expected back for his first start in seven weeks after being sidelined with a foot injury. His return could boost an Arizona State squad that is already dominating in the trenches, playing well on special teams and coming up with the big play when it needs it.
Once again, though, it comes down to the Huskies and what they do. Washington has yet to put two well-played games together, showing its inconsistencies. How the defense bounces back, and how Miles performs, after a poor outing will tell a lot about this team’s character.
“We’re ready to get back on the horse and get ready to go back to work,” Cooper said. “There’s a lot more games to be played . . . (and) we’re going to be ready to go.”
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