Well, this will be a fun exercise, won’t it?
The big picture here is that the Huskies basically gave back what they had gained last week by getting an unexpected win at USC.
This was an expected win that turned into a loss — ASU was the No. 9 pick in the pre-season Pac-10 media poll and had lost eight straight conference games. So now UW has to find an unexpected win somewhere to make up for it to just get to 6-6 (and even if the NCAA passes a rule to allow losing teams into bowl games to fill out the 70 slots, I still think a .500 or better record will probably be needed).
Oregon State, which comes in next Saturday, was basically in the toss-up category before today. But OSU seems to be righting itself, while UW went the other way today. After that it’s at Arizona, home to Stanford and at Oregon. UW may not be favored in any of those. So suddenly, the season looks at the brink.
As for tonight, certainly UW’s health was an issue. UW was without one of its best OLs (Erik Kohler), one of its best WRs (Devin Aguilar, who had a big game against ASU last year with 154 yards) and with Jake Locker at apparently nowhere near 100 percent. We didn’t learn about that until afterward, so we all watched the game not really knowing. I mostly thought UW didn’t think it could get Locker outside enough to make it worth calling a lot of runs.
Instead, it sounds as if UW coach Steve Sarkisian decided that Locker’s health made it so that he couldn’t run much. As Sarkisian said, Locker had trouble catching his breath whenever he did run. And when he did run, he wasn’t his usual self running. Sarkisian said he called only three designed QB runs tonight. Might have been a nice night to have had an experienced QB to turn to for a series or two, but UW doesn’t have that.
Anyway, Locker’s health puts a little bit of an asterisk by this one. But UW also didn’t do much to stop Arizona State, which got pretty conservative at times, it seemed like, trying not to make any stupid mistakes to cost itself the game (it made a bunch anyway).
Preamble over, on with the grades
QUARTERBACK: Locker’s ill health obviously influences what how you grade his game. He also didn’t have his full complement of receivers, or his best line. Statistically, not a terrible night — 23-38 for 209 with the one interception a desperate pass late in the game. It wasn’t his fault. GRADE: B.
RUNNING BACK: Given that Locker was ill, and the receivers weren’t at full strength, nor necessarily always playing all that well, it’s worth wondering why Chris Polk and Jesse Callier got just 21 combined carries. Polk had 110 yards on 18 carries and didn’t have a negative play all night. Callier had 20 yards on three carries. So that’s 130 yardes on 21 carries, almost 6.5 per carry. Sure, 37 came on one Polk run, and there were lots of not-great runs there. But Polk, in particular, was the most consistent thing UW had going. That one fourth down wasn’t a great time for Austin Sylvester to get his lone pass of the game thrown his way, however. GRADE: A-minus.
RECEIVERS: Aguilar’s loss was obviously felt as the Huskies leaned heavily instead on Jordan Polk and D’Andre Goodwin, neither of whom is real imposing physically. His loss was magnified by the fact that Jermaine Kearse continues to have trouble dropping passes — and they really just seem to come at key times. UW didn’t have a pass play longer than 22 yards, in part because Locker couldn’t get the time, though it seemed like the Huskies didn’t really want to try to get deep much, either. And the tight end wasn’t involved at all. Marlion Barnett appeared to get more snaps than Chris Izbicki, but neither had a catch. GRADE: D.
OFFENSIVE LINE: That UW appeared to miss Kohler as much as it did says a lot about Kohler — but also about the state of the rest of the line. It should be noted that ASU has some decent players on its front seven, especially when Vontaze Burfict is in the game (and a real tragedy of this one was not taking advantage more of the times when Burfict was out —- he was in for maybe half the snaps at the most). Still, ASU came into the game with just four sacks on the season — three fewer than anyone else in the conference before today — and Locker was sacked a season-high three times today. His illness probably played a role there, likely, in his ability to escape. Still, even at 70 percent or whatever he was, he’s more mobile than most and without him, that total might have been higher. And Polk seemed to get many/most of his yards after contact. No doubt, ASU was better in the trenches most of the night. Obviously, Greg Christine struggled filling in for Kohler (including being called for two holding penalties). But he was hardly alone. Lots of improvement needed here to battle the teams that await the next month. GRADE: D.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Give UW some credit for bottling up ASU’s running game — the Sun Devils had just 99 yards overall and its three RBs had 113 yards on 24 carries, not bad but not the gashing that was evident a week ago. So the line gets some of the kudos for that. But ASU QB Steven Threet had lots of time to throw and when he didn’t, it was usually because UW brought pressure — all three of his sacks were by LBs or safeties. UW went with a three-man line much of the night, so that must be noted, as well, when considering the numbers. But overall, ASU also seemed to get the better of this matchup — and also worth noting that the Sun Devils’ line is generally regarded as near the bottom of the conference. GRADE: C-minus.
LINEBACKERS: This was the one area of the defense that at least seemed to make some plays. Mason Foster led UW with 12 tackles and had a sack, and Cort Dennison had 10 tackles, two for a loss, a sack, one interception and another he almost picked off. Other than Victor Aiyewa, no other LB played. GRADE: B.
SECONDARY: The running defense issues of the Nebraska and USC games somewhat masked that the secondary is struggling, as well. UW went with a nickel defense much of the night, but ASU still had WRs open all over the place. Obviously, the lack of a pass rush didn’t help. But there were other times that the DBs just didn’t make plays (as some of you have mentioned I initially forgot, maybe no blown opportunity bigger than the early dropped interception by Nate Fellner). Threet was 21-34 and by our estimation in the press box, ASU dropped at least six passes. So that means 27-34 if they simply caught all the passes they could have. You can say the opposition has been tough so far, but the reality is that it’s not getting any easier. GRADE: D.
SPECIAL TEAMS: UW finally got a good return (Callier’s 51-yarder) and Kiel Rasp continues to punt the heck out of the ball. UW gave up one long punt return that was a killer, but otherwise covered okay. Hard to judge Erik Folk given the weather — ASU’s guy didn’t do any better there. But if you throw the fake field goal into this category, not a winning night. GRADE: C.
COACHING: Sarkisian insisted afterward the team played hard, and I think I’d agree. I really don’t think a letdown, or whatever else you’d want to call it, was the issue. ASU has some talented players, and while they’d been losing a lot of games, had also been real competitive against a lot of good teams. Maybe the odds just were against UW — ASU seems too talented to keep losing forever. That said, there were obviously some things to wonder about — specifically, why they didn’t go more with Polk/Callier given Locker’s situation and that of the receivers; and the fake field goal (would they’d been better off just punting and discouraging ASU from trying to score and take their chances at getting the ball back to start the second half down just 14-7? And doesn’t 18 yards seems like an awful lot to try to get on that kind of play?) Sarkisian and crew got a lot of hurrahs after the win over USC. This week they’ll feel the other side of it. GRADE: D.