Game Scout: Washington at Arizona State

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


KICKOFF: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/19/13
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Network
SERIES: Arizona State has won seven consecutive games against Washington to tie the series at 15. The teams haven't played since 2010, when the Sun Devils won 24-14 in Seattle.
RANKINGS: Washington No. 20, Arizona State unranked

KEYS TO THE GAME
Arizona State lost four consecutive games last year right after it hit the midpoint of the season.
A year earlier, the Sun Devils dropped five of six games in the back half of the regular season, costing coach Dennis Erickson his job.
So you can see that it makes sense that the theme for this year's team is to finish. ASU is 4-2 overall, 2-1 in the Pac-12 and ready to hit the home stretch.
"We ought to be extremely motivated," coach Todd Graham said. "We're extremely healthy, and we have a shot. It's the team that plays with that kind of spirit and that kind of enthusiasm that is the key."
The Pac-12 is so deep that are no gimmees left for the Sun Devils, who jump right back into the deep water after routing Colorado last week. They play host this Saturday to Washington. Sure, the Huskies have lost two in a row, but those were competitive defeats at Stanford and against Oregon, both of which were in the top 5 at the time of the game.
After this week comes a Thursday, Oct. 31, game at Washington State (the Devils have not played as well away from home), a game at Utah (which has a home win over Stanford), vs. now-hot Oregon State, at Pac-12 South favorite UCLA and then a home game against rival Arizona, where anything can happen.
If ASU does something great in the next several weeks, it will have earned it.
"A lot of work has gone into this," Graham was quoted as saying in the Arizona Republic. "We're in the ballpark, but we got to continue to improve. How will we respond to adversity? That's going to be a key going down the stretch."
Arizona State appears to be the prime contender to UCLA in the Pac-12 South, and the next couple of weeks could be very telling. The Bruins have to play at Stanford and Oregon, two monumental tasks that could open the door for ASU to slide into the driver's seat in the division.
"I think we're a lot better than we were in Week 1," Graham said. "But you've got to realize everybody else is getting better, too. This is the time of year you better rise up."

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Huskies
--RB Bishop Sankey leads the nation in rushing attempts, total rushing yards and rushing yards per game. He's tied for third in the country in rushing touchdowns, just one off the lead with nine. He's moved into seventh all-time on the Washington rushing list midway through his junior season. At this pace, he could move into third before the season is over.
--TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins was a preseason All-American, yet is on pace for 32 catches, which would be less than half the number of catches he had last season. The Huskies have made an effort to spread the ball around this year after relying almost exclusively on Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams.
--DE Hau'oli Kikaha has made an impact after losing the past two seasons to knee problems. Kikaha, formerly named Jamora, won the starting rush end spot in fall camp and has produced each week. He leads Washington with 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He also has two passes defensed and forced a fumble. Kikaha is a redshirt junior who could be in line for an all-conference senior year next season.

Sun Devils
--RB Marion Grice is the nation's top touchdown-maker, reaching the end zone 10 times on the ground and five via reception. In his past nine games, dating to last season, he has scored 21 times. "I have a smell for the end zone," he said recently. His 15.0 points per game average is three points ahead of the nation's No. 2 scorer -- Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks.
--WR Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer with sophomore eligibility, has been even better than advertised, giving Arizona State exactly what it needed -- a playmaker on the outside. Strong, 6-foot-4, has 20 explosive receiving plays, which the Sun Devils define as a catch of at least 16 yards. The best ASU receiver in that category last season had only 18 such plays.
--LB Carl Bradford, who is the "Devilbacker," is a force off the edge, leading ASU with 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also has broken up three passes and forced a fumble. He can't be too aggressive getting up the field against Washington because QB Keith Price can move effectively when stepping up in the pocket.
--DT Will Sutton hasn't had the statistical follow-up to his All-American junior season that everyone expected, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been an immovable force in the middle. He had 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last season. Halfway through the regular season, Sutton has 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack.