A week ago, we were ruminating in this space that the Huskies needed a win to pump some life back into the season.
Now the task is to keep it alive with a game against Arizona State that in its own right, may be just as pivotal. UW now has two home games (ASU and Oregon State) and a chance to get to 4-2 before a murderer’s row of at Arizona, Stanford and at Oregon, three games in which UW is unlikely (reading the current tea leaves, anyway) to be favored.
A 4-2 mark entering that trio isn’t necessarily imperative but obviously pretty darn advisable.
As for the game, there are all sorts of subplots — specifically, will UW suffer a letdown after the big USC win (which came after a bye week to get mentally and physically healthy)?; and will ASU be able to summon the motivation to play a tough road game for the third time in four weeks while not having won a game against a BCS foe in almost a year?
As for as what will happen on the field, there are all sorts of things you could circle as keys — will the UW offense sustain the revival that began last week; will the Husky defense improve its tackling and other fundamental play; can UW narrow what appears to be a sizeable ASU advantage in special teams?
But what it all may really come down to is one of the biggest cliches in the book — turnovers.
ASU ranks tied for 117th in the nation (out of 120 teams) in turnover margin, losing 13 and getting just six in its first five games. That includes 10 interceptions thrown by Steven Threet, second-most of any QB in the nation (Buffalo’s Jerry Davis is first with 11).
UW, meanwhile, has just one interception this year — that by true freshman Greg Ducre in mop-up time against Syracuse.
Something, obviously, has to give there — either Threet stops turning the ball over or the Huskies start getting some. And whichever way that branch breaks is likely to determine the game. Figure the over-under on Threet interceptions equalling a UW victory at three.
Of course, interceptions don’t just happen, and it’s worth wondering if the Huskies have it in them to do the necessary things to cause picks —- namely, putting pressure on Threet and covering the receivers closely enough to be in position for errant throws. UW hasn’t done much of either this season.
ASU’s offense is young and features a lot of fairly unknown players. But the Devils put up 597 yards on Oregon and have rushed for 169 against Wisconsin, 210 against Oregon and 161 against Oregon State, so the abilithy is there. UW seems unlikely to just stop ASU, so the Huskies will have to force turnovers and again come up big in the red zone (ASU has struggled there, as well, converting just 18-26, the lowest percentage in the Pac-10).
Offensively, UW found a winning formula last week rolling out Jake Locker more than any time all season. But that may not work as well this week against an ASU defense that by most accounts if faster laterally than USC (which also tells you a lot about where USC is right now). So UW may have to attack more up the middle, which could mean more opportunities for Chris Polk, and maybe a few more deep shots for the receivers.
Special teams also looms critical. ASU had kickoff returns of 95 and 97 yards in the Wisconsin game and also has two good kickers.
To break it down, I’d probably give an edge to UW for offense, due in large part to Locker and his consistency (he’s thrown just two interceptionis this season, both against Nebraska), a slight edge on defense to Arizona State, and also a slight edge to the Devils on special teams. UW, though, also has the homefield edge, and probably something of a pyschological one right now, as well.
Who knows how ASU will respond once some adversity hits?
That leads to another real key — UW getting off to a good start. The Huskies have fallen behind 10-0 and 14-0 in their two home games. Given what has to be a rather shaky mental state for ASU, the Huskies have to jump on the Devils and not give them any hope. If ASU gets a lead, however, that wave could easily shift the other way.
The guess here is that the game is close throughout, each team making big offensive plays, and probably lots of fireworks all night. But UW has the home field and a better QB, and that should ultimately make the difference. Call it UW, 30-26.