No. 7 UW Huskies shake off slow start to beat Arizona State 44-18

Nov 19, 2016, 8:11 PM | Updated: 8:32 pm
Myles Gaskin had a 45-yard touchdown to help the Huskies beat Arizona State 44-18 on Saturday. (AP)...
Myles Gaskin had a 45-yard touchdown to help the Huskies beat Arizona State 44-18 on Saturday. (AP)

The Washington Huskies got things back on track ahead of an Apple Cup for the ages next week.

The No. 7 Dawgs rebounded from last week’s loss to USC, beating Arizona State 44-18 to move to 10-1 overall and 7-1 in conference play and set up a showdown next Friday in Pullman against No. 20 WSU (8-3, 7-1) that will settle the Pac-12 North championship.

No. 20 Cougars suffer first loss in Pac-12 play, 38-24 to No. 12 Colorado

While the final score doesn’t quite indicate as much, it wasn’t smooth sailing from the start for Washington against the Sun Devils. The offense still looked out of sorts in the first half, much like it did in the 26-13 loss to USC, with quarterback Jake Browning getting picked off twice and the Huskies managing just a field goal after they recovered a muffed punt by Arizona State at the Sun Devils’ 11 yard line.

UW even looked like it might have to fight back from a deficit after Browning’s second pick, which initially appeared to be a pick six for Koron Crump but was called back to Washington’s 13 due to a block in the back. In fact, the only thing stopping Arizona State from tying the Huskies at 3-all or taking the lead was an incredible one-handed Kevin King interception in the end zone.

That was enough to swing the momentum for the Huskies, though, as two plays later they were up 10-0 thanks to an impressive show of blocking on a screen pass to Chico McClatcher, who went 75 yards untouched to score. Washington built a 30-point lead before ASU finally got on the board with a 50-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez late in the third quarter.

The Sun Devils managed a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but a bizarre 45-yard return on an onside kick for a touchdown by linebacker Keishawn Bierria erased any doubt of a Huskies win.

UW’s win ended a 10-game losing streak against Arizona State dating back to 2002, and it also keeps the Huskies in the conversation to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season. Washington was ranked sixth in the latest CFP rankings, and it will likely jump a spot in the next thanks to No. 5 Louisville’s 36-10 loss to Houston on Thursday. The Huskies may also be helped by the fact that No. 2 Ohio State barely survived against 3-7 Michigan State in a 17-16 win on Saturday.

Wins in the Apple Cup and the subsequent Pac-12 title game could very well cement Washington in the CFP.

Turning point: Kevin King’s ridiculous one-handed interception in the end zone early in the second quarter bailed the Huskies out of a dangerous predicament after Jake Browning had thrown his second pick of the game and fourth in two weeks. King’s play preserved a narrow 3-0 UW lead, and two plays later the Huskies were up 10-0 thanks to a 75-yard catch-and-run to the end zone by Chico McClatcher on a screen pass from Browning.

Biggest takeaway: It wasn’t exactly the kind of dominance the Huskies had been used to over the first nine games of their season, but Washington worked through its issues on both sides of the ball to get back on track. An initial lack of rhythm on offense was shook off by Browning and company, as he at one point completed 14 straight passes. And on defense, some creativity, included a pair of successful safety blitzes by Budda Baker, helped the Dawgs create pressure on the quarterback, something that had been a problem in recent weeks since UW lost leading pass-rusher Joe Mathis to injury. Washington finished with six sacks.

Player of the game: Dante Pettis led the Huskies in receiving with 105 yards on seven catches and badly burned the ASU defense to haul in a deep bomb from Browning for a 46-yard touchdown pass that made it 17-0 UW in the second quarter.

Passing grades: Browning had a rough go in the first half, getting picked off twice for the second week in a row after throwing just three interceptions total in the first nine games of the season. The sophomore QB was much better after that second pick, though, as he finished with 338 yards and two touchdowns on 27 for 44 passing. He now has 37 touchdowns to seven interceptions this season. John Ross was the primary target, making a team-high 12 catches for 95 yards.

On the ground: Myles Gaskin broke free for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, adding some volume to what had otherwise been a somewhat quiet night. He had 127 yards on 16 carries. Fellow running back Lavon Coleman added 47 yards, a touchdown, and an absolute trucking of an ASU defender on the sideline, while Browning had an impressive 19-yard gain on a scramble in the third quarter.

What’s next: The Huskies and the rival Washington State Cougars will meet in Pullman on Friday in one of the most important Apple Cups in the series’ storied history, as the winner will take the Pac-12 championship. It will be just the second time ever and first time since 1936 that the game will settle a championship, according to Brian Floyd of SB Nation.

Brent Stecker

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No. 7 UW Huskies shake off slow start to beat Arizona State 44-18