Pardon the poor weather analogy, but it does feel like a storm is approaching the Washington football program.
The weather forecast calls for a 60-percent chance of rain for Saturday’s 7:45 p.m. kickoff against No. 14 Arizona State (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) at Husky Stadium. The forecast for the impact of this game on UW’s season is immense.
Falter here, and the Huskies enter a tough, five-game November stretch — with three road trips — just hoping to stop the bleeding. Knock off the Sun Devils, and the Huskies still have some nice carrots dangling in front of them as they enter the final month.
On one hand, it’s natural to assume that a team from Arizona would struggle in rainy conditions. The Huskies, relying on a strong ground game, beat the Arizona Wildcats 31-13 last year in a downpour at Husky Stadium.
And yet, the Huskies haven’t practiced much in those conditions in this unusually warm fall. Most notably, all signs are pointing toward redshirt freshman quarterback Troy Williams making his starting debut for UW, and the rainy conditions are less than ideal for such a situation for a young quarterback.
Further, injuries in UW’s backfield have left even more questions about the running game, which has struggled even when healthy. Of the “Core Four” running back committee, Deontae Cooper is the only healthy one this week. Add to that some injury concerns on the offensive line — Ben Riva? Dexter Charles? — and it’s difficult to have any sort of feel for what the UW offense might look like.
You wonder, certainly, about Arizona State’s decision to go with senior QB Taylor Kelly in this one. Mike Bercovici played well over the past month while Kelly was out with a foot injury. Kelly is back this week, and he’s the more mobile of the two. Those legs could come in handy if the weather does get ugly.
If the Huskies are to win this one, the defense has to lead the charge. Shaq Thompson and Co. are capable of that, as we’ve seen, but even then it might not be enough to overcome many of the injury concerns on the UW offense.
Prediction: Arizona State 27, UW 24.
Around the Pac-12:
Oregon at Cal: This could be a fun Friday-night fireworks show. If the Ducks play close to what they did in the first half against UW last week, this shouldn’t be close. The pick: Oregon 49, Cal 28.
UCLA at Colorado: The Bruins escaped Cal last week, and the sense here is they’re finally (maybe) starting to figure some things out. The pick: UCLA 38, Colorado 28.
Oregon State at Stanford: Perhaps the two most disappointing teams in the conference, the Beavers will show they are just a bit more disappointing. The pick: Stanford 24, Oregon State 23.
Arizona at Washington State: I’m still not sold on the Wildcats as a legit Pac-12 South contender. Connor Halliday throws for 1,400 yards and the Cougs pull it off at home. The pick: Washington State 52, Arizona 45.
USC at Utah: The Utes did lose to the Cougs at home, and they needed a couple overtimes to beat Oregon State. Let’s go with the road team here. The pick: USC 28, Utah 27.