By Brent Stecker
The panic button on the Washington Huskies’ season can officially be pressed.
The No. 20 Huskies fell for the third time in as many weeks Saturday, and the 53-24 loss to Arizona State was the most disappointing and troublesome defeat yet for a team that is likely to drop out of the Top 25 rankings for the first time since its season-opening win over Boise State.
Washington QB Keith Price struggled to find a rhythm in a dismal first half and was sacked seven times in a 53-24 loss to Arizona State. (AP)
The Huskies dropped to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12, and they need a win badly after coming up short against Stanford, Oregon and now the Sun Devils (5-1, 3-1). And in that case, next week’s home game against the Cal Bears may be just what the doctor ordered.
Three things we learned:
1. There is an answer for Bishop Sankey, and Arizona State has it.
Huskies running back Bishop Sankey entered the game as the nation’s leader in rushing yards per game, but he left it with just 22 yards to show for his 13 carries. Even though the junior from Spokane found the end zone on the first drive of the game, Sankey was stopped time and time again as the Sun Devils defense made it their top priority to not let him beat them. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t run against Arizona State, though – Washington ended the game with minus-5 yards rushing, which is the first time all year it has been limited to under 100 yards on the ground.
2. The slow start came back to haunt Washington.
The Huskies may be 6 for 6 when it comes to scoring touchdowns on their first drive of the third quarter this season, but it doesn’t do them much good when they’re already deep in the hole. That was the case last week against No. 2 Oregon (though the Huskies kept that game competitive into the fourth quarter), and it was most definitely the case against Arizona State. Washington couldn’t figure out how to move the ball or stop the Sun Devils from scoring in the second quarter, and as a result it trailed 29-7 at halftime. The 70-yard touchdown pass from Huskies quarterback Keith Price to receiver Kevin Smith closed the gap to 15 points just 1:02 into the third quarter, and it helped Washington’s offense get back on track, but the Sun Devils continued to torture the UW defense en route to the win.
3. Arizona State is a Top 10 offense for a reason.
The Sun Devils have topped 30 points in each game this season, and they exceeded 50 points for the fourth time in 2013 with their win over the Huskies. Washington has allowed more than 24 points in a game just three times this season (its three losses), even keeping Oregon to a somewhat respectable 45 points. But Arizona State put a myriad of weapons on display Saturday, and the Huskies especially couldn’t hold down running back Marion Grice (158 yards rushing, 37 yards receiving, three touchdowns) and quarterback Taylor Kelly (271 yards passing, 84 yards rushing). They did limit top receiver Jaelen Strong to seven yards on three receptions, but in retrospect all that does is showcase just how many ways the Sun Devils can move the ball.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. What happened to Keith Price?
Price has been dealing with an injured thumb for multiple weeks, and that could have been the reason he looked so off in the first half while the Sun Devils were busy racing out to a huge lead. Then again it could be something else entirely. With the Huskies coming off two losses and pressure mounting for a much-needed win, could that have been what got to him? Or does the credit belong to the aggressive Arizona State defense that completely shut down Washington’s run game and continually put Price on the ground in passing situations? Whatever the case, Price’s first half performance has Huskies fans worried that the Price that led Washington to a 4-0 start in 2013 is gone, and the Price that struggled throughout 2012 has made a return to the fold.
2. Does the offensive line need a re-evaluation?
As much as Sankey struggled, the blame for the Huskies’ minus-5 rushing yards belongs to their offensive line. Same with the seven sacks – yes, seven – that the Sun Devils mounted. It was as poor as performance from an offensive line as you could see, something Washington has not had to deal with this season at all. Undoubtedly the line will get a lot of attention in practice this week. Does that also mean there will be adjustments in the depth chart?
3. Do more up-tempo teams have the Huskies’ number?
Nobody can keep up with Oregon, so last week’s loss to the Ducks didn’t signal too much to worry about. Arizona State is a different case, however, and it was clear that with the running backs continually hitting a brick wall and the passing game devoid of any sense of rhythm, the Huskies’ offense couldn’t match the pace of the Sun Devils. With that established, Arizona State ran away with the game, torching the UW defense and imposing its will at every turn. It’s very much what Washington looked like in its four wins, when it was definitely the fastest team on the field. So when the Huskies aren’t the fastest team, are they doomed? They had success against the up-tempo styles of Boise State, Illinois and Arizona, so that may not be the case, but the loss to the Sun Devils has to raise some eyebrows.