There are certain times during a season when games seem winnable and later, teams find out that they are not as good as they once thought. Then, there comes a point in the season when a game becomes a must win contest.
This week for Arizona State is that must win battle against the Washington Huskies.
Many media pundits felt that Washington was going to be improved, however, most did not give the Huskies a chance at even sniffing the top tier of the Pac-10. Well, the Huskies beat seven-time defending conference champion USC in Seattle earlier this season. Albeit with a back-up quarterback, the Steve Sarkisian led Huskies earned a victory against USC, an achievement that does not get overlooked in any forum.
Yes, the Trojans seem to slip up once a year against an inferior opponent (i.e. Stanford in 2007, Oregon St. in 2008), but this Washington Huskies team is playing with passion and physicality again.
Last season the Huskies finished 0-12, and the purple and gold even managed to lose to fellow cellar-dweller and in-state-rival, Washington State. However, that was last season, Sarkisian and former USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt have the Huskies and the greater northwest believing that Washington is back.
Although, the Huskies have yet to overcome the obstacle of winning a road game this season. Washington lost their first road contest of the year in Palo Alto against Stanford, back when everyone was on the Cardinal bandwagon—the game was not pretty. The final score read 34-14, as the Cardinal's Toby Gerhart carried the ball 27 times for 200 yards in route to 424 total yards for Stanford.
However, the Huskies knew that as a team, they could perform much better, and Washington showed that in South Bend, Ind. a week later.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish fought off a gritty Huskies team that forced overtime in a 37-30 thrilling game.
But this season has almost felt like a fairy tale for Washington. The Huskies have played top-tier teams, and went punch for punch with the heavyweights of college football. A dream of a finish last week against Arizona propelled the Huskies back into the forefront of the Pac-10 race.
The question is, can they complete the sweep of the Arizona schools and return to a postseason bowl for the first time since 2002?
The Sun Devils, playing at home, might have something to say about that scenario. Arizona State, in their own right, is trying to return to a bowl game after enduring an injury-riddled 2008 campaign that left the Sun Devils with a 5-7 record.
Arizona State has not been a flashy team this season. The defense has led the way in most games, minus the Oregon State debacle, where it seemed like no matter what ASU attempted to accomplish, nothing was going to go right for Dennis Erickson's squad.
But on the bright side, Arizona State received a slump-buster on their schedule with a trip to Pullman, Wash. last week to take on the Cougars. Although the game was not as pretty as fans might have wanted, or as entertaining as the Arizona-Washington game later that evening, the Sun Devils still managed to dominate the Cougars, even if the score did not indicate that.
Once again, the defense stood tough: After numerous three-and-outs and turnovers, ASU still recorded 12 sacks and managed to record three takeaways to improve their turnover margin to plus-seven on the season, which is tops in the Pac-10. Craig Bray's defense, also limited the Cougars to only 181 total yards of offense.
Still, the offense seems to be stuck in slow motion, which is not a pleasant place to be in the speedy, offensive showcase that is the Pac-10 Conference, where touchdowns seem to be scored almost at will.
Whether the Sun Devils score by ground or air, it seems that ASU might need to only score 21 points on offense. As a team, the Sun Devils are only giving up 15 points per game. To couple that, the defense might lend a helping hand as well, since the Sun Devils defense and special teams has scored in two of ASU's three home games this season.
So, which team is going to take that next step and win a "must have" game this Saturday in Tempe? Will it be the revitalized Washington Huskies led by Jake Locker on offense, or can the Sun Devils defense shutdown the Huskies balanced attack, while Danny Sullivan leads the offense to a signature victory at home?