SEATTLE — Never has a Chris Petersen-coached offense been more disheveled than it was in Washington’s 13-7 loss at Arizona State in 2017.
The Huskies entered that October game ranked No. 5 in the polls and favored by 17 points over a Sun Devils defense ranked 120th nationally. ASU held the Huskies to 91 yards rushing and 230 yards of total offense; it is the fewest points and fewest yards UW has had against a Pac-12 opponent during the Petersen era.
The Huskies didn’t score their first points until midway through the fourth quarter that night in Tempe after missing two close field goals earlier in the game. They lost standout left tackle Trey Adams to a season-ending knee injury early, and then lost standout cornerback Jordan Miller to a season-ending ankle injury. Another desert debacle, indeed.
“It was a really tough game for a lot of different reasons,” UW offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “It was a weird game, and one I would love to forget.”
The No. 10 Huskies (2-1), coming off a 21-7 victory in their Pac-12 opener at Utah last week, are again heavy betting favorites — 17.5 points — entering Saturday’s game against Arizona State.
Arizona State, as much as anyone in the Pac-12, has proved to be a troublesome foe for the Huskies in recent years. The Huskies have lost 11 of 12 in the series, including three of four during Petersen’s tenure (matching UW’s 1-3 record against Stanford for most losses to a Pac-12 opponent since 2014).
The Huskies’ lone victory against ASU since 2001 was two years ago at Husky Stadium, 44-18.
Much has changed for the Sun Devils under first-year coach Herm Edwards. And yet ASU remains one of the more difficult defensive teams to prepare for, UW coaches and players said this week. The Sun Devils, under new defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales, employ a 3-3-5 scheme and will rush five defenders at the quarterback on just about every passing down.
The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 with 12 sacks through three games. That will put the onus Saturday night on UW’s offensive line — a beat-up offensive line still trying to find its footing early in the season — to protect Jake Browning, who in three games against ASU has three touchdowns against five interceptions and has been sacked nine times.
“They bring everything and that’s kind of the thing. They literally bring everything,” UW senior right tackle Kaleb McGary said. “They are similar to North Dakota, but I think they are a little more versed in the sense that they bring more volume of stuff. The sheer volume of different blitzes and twists and stuff they can bring is greater than what North Dakota brought. They are in the same ballpark, but I think there is just a lot more that they can do.”
With McGary and redshirt freshman guard Jaxson Kirkland, the right side of UW’s line has been solid. Kirkland, in fact, has been one of the more pleasant developments on offense early in the season.
“He’s done a nice job,” Huff said. “He’s a young guy and he’s gotten to play on a couple big stages already. Three games in, he’s handled himself the right way. Like anybody, he’s got a lot of room to improve, but so far so good. It’s fun to see a young guy have success and watch them progress and gain confidence. That’s one of the reasons you coach, to watch that kind of development happen.”
The left side of the line remains a work in progress. Junior tackle Jared Hilbers and sophomore Luke Wattenberg have started all three games on the left side, but junior Henry Roberts and redshirt freshman Henry Bainivalu were for the first time called on for meaningful snaps in the second half against Utah.
Junior center Nick Harris appeared to aggravate a knee injury in the second half against Utah and did not return. The Huskies are hopeful he will be back against ASU. If not, junior Jesse Sosebee could make his second start at center.
“It’s not ideal,” Huff said of the line’s shuffling, “but next guy up.”