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UW’s secondary will hold down high-flying ASU

By Brent Stecker

The No. 20 Washington Huskies are used to being the more aggressive offensive team, but they’ll be challenged for that distinction when they meet Arizona State in Phoenix on Saturday.

The Sun Devils (4-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) have put up at least 30 points in each of their six games this season, and they rank 10th in the nation with 44.2 points per game. The Huskies aren’t far behind at 36th with 35.2 points per game, suggesting that both teams will look to light up the scoreboard from the outset of the 3 p.m. kickoff, but Arizona State may not be the best team to get into a shootout with.

asu taylor kelly

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has helped the Sun Devils score at least 30 points in each of their six games this season. (AP)

Not that Washington’s defense is looking to let it become a shootout. The Sun Devils are primarily a passing team (342.2 yards per game), and the Huskies’ secondary has been dominant at times in 2013, and they rank 16th in the nation with 182.2 passing yards allowed per game.

And that, plain and simple, makes it Washington’s game to lose.

At first glance, the Huskies and Sun Devils (who knocked off No. 25 Wisconsin earlier this season) can look evenly matched, and with UW coming off two very tough losses to Stanford and Oregon, it’s possible it could be prone to a continued free-fall with this game. But the Huskies played well in both of those losses, and they’re still the same team that reeled off the program’s first 4-0 start since 2001.

If Washington starts slow, it could be in trouble, but don’t count on that happening. Junior running back Bishop Sankey, who leads the NCAA with 149.8 rushing yards per game, has shown he can handle upwards of 30 carries a game if needed, and that usually means he’ll have an early impact. As for Arizona State, it ranks 75th in the NCAA with 168.8 yards allowed per game on the ground, so don’t expect the Sun Devils to be the first team to solve Sankey this year.

Arizona State also has a star running back in Marion Grice, who leads the nation with 10 rushing touchdowns and 15 total scores, but he hasn’t topped the century mark on the ground this year. He’s proven to be perhaps more dangerous in the passing game, though, hauling in 29 receptions for 265 yards.

The offense will be there for the Huskies, so the key to holding down the Sun Devils will be getting pressure on quarterback Taylor Kelly, which has been an area of inconsistency for Washington this season. On one hand, they’re tied for 23rd in the NCAA with 16 sacks, but on the other hand, only five have come since their third game of the season.

Give the Sun Devils time to throw, and it’s likely top receiver Jaelen Strong (42 receptions, 678 yards, four touchdowns) will find a way to get open, or Kelly will be able to dump the ball off to Grice or fellow RB D.J. Foster (29 receptions, 265 yards) for positive yardage. But if Washington can limit those three players from breaking off explosive plays, Arizona State won’t have many more options to put points on the board.