The message from Steve Sarkisian has apparently been surprisingly different than it was last year after UW's thrilling win against the Empire of Troy. Now, after delivering what could be the final blow to USC after getting the axe from the NCAA, instead of guarding against a let down by bringing the players 'Back down to Earth', Sarkisian is trying to keep the players hovering far above it, because that's quite frankly where they should be right now.
Washington's win over USC last week in Los Angeles can be described as nothing else but a season saving win. Come back to Seattle with a loss, and a bowl game is not possible.
Jake Locker converted on fourth and 11 to save our season. It was quite easily the defining win of the Sarkisian era. The most important win in a game the Huskies needed.
But that was last week. This is this week, and now this is the most important game of the Sarkisian era.
This is what happens when you are in year two after a five-win turnaround in your first season.
Sitting at 2-2 the stakes are only getting higher.
After facing Arizona State this Saturday the Huskies face a daunting four-week stretch facing what basically boils down to the four best teams in the conference. Home against Oregon State, on the road against Arizona, back home for Stanford, and down to Autzen to close out a month of fun against the Ducks. Even as a die-hard Husky fan, I'd be hard pressed to sit here and tell you there are two wins in there for the Huskies. I am praying for one.
Instead, our hopes hinge on the final three against UCLA, Cal, and Cougs.
Which is why this Saturday is so important. Not to make it out as if Arizona State is a pushover, but this is one of the most winnable games the Huskies will have in the conference schedule all year, and these are the games that Washington has to win if they want to prove that they have finally turned the corner.
These are games that during the Tyrone Willingham era in 2006 and 2007, that we lost. Games that could've turned the fortunes of that team around, instead, kept them in the gutter. To get to a bowl game, you beat teams that you are capable of beating. This is what Washington must do. If the losing, and the bleeding is to stop, if the program is to finally move forward, it stops Saturday. Washington set the bar high last weekend in Los Angeles, they need to keep the bar there.
So without further ado, let's take a look at what Washington must do on Saturday
What to expect from Arizona State: Mistake-prone football from quarterback Steven Threet and big chunks of yardage from running back Deantre Lewis. The refugee quarterback from Michigan has stepped in to become the answer for Dennis Erickson at the critical position, and results have been, mostly, fruitful. The Sun Devils are averaging over 34 points per game and almost 285 passing yards per game. The problem? Threet has ten interception through five games. Seven of those picks have come in the last two games against the Oregon schools. His other three? Against FBS schools Portland State and Northern Arizona. Still, Threet has also been the reason Arizona State could just as easily be 5-0 as they are 2-3. They lost road games to Wisconsin and Oregon State by a combined four points and gave Oregon their only real scare of the year putting 31 on the Ducks before letting Oregon break away late. But judging by how Washington has defended the run thus far this year, it's Lewis that the Dawgs should be worried about. The freshman sensation started off slow gaining only 29 yards his first two games, but in the last three has taken 40 total carries for 353 yards, an astounding 8.8 yards per carry. Sophomore Cameron Marshall will also touch the football, who averages 5.4 yards a pop this year.
So how the heck are the Huskies gonna win?: Last week in Los Angeles the Washington run defense showed improvement upon their last game when Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez would bust long runs down the sideline, demoralizing any chance of a Husky comeback before they could even hope.
But how? They gave up 298 yards!
Well, they gave up 298 yards on 39 carries. While seven yards a carry is still atrocious, at the very least, they weren't letting long runs get busted. There were still missed tackles, missed gaps, and a defensive line proving they still aren't up to the task. But the longest run given up was 37 yards. They made USC sustain drives, which may not mean much since the Trojans still only punted twice, were forced to kick a field goal once, and didn't turn it over. On the surface it doesn't mean much, but what it did was it didn't make it as demoralizing for Washington's offense when they took the field. Even when USC took the lead, you felt like it was still a game. Arizona State has been a turnover prone team, and when you make a team sustain a drive and not guarantee them points, you increase your opportunity as a defense to make something happen. It will be easier to make the Devils kick field goals and it will be easier to get takeaways. But with their playmakers, it will be harder to contain the big plays. It's cliche from last week, but when your defense is this bad, it has to be a cliche for a reason. Washington will give up yardage and they won't get very many stops. Maximizing their opportunities is the only way to help Jake Locker and the offense win the game.
Final analysis: Sarkisian and Erickson are playing a game of chicken when it comes to whether or not key players will start. Sark is holding out on LG Erik Kohler due to an illness, but as of Thursday it looks like that's still not a sure thing. It's a home game, so don't be surprised to see it as a game time decision. Kohler has progressed quickly in the offense and has looked comfortable. For ASU, it's linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict is under a team imposed suspension for going helmet to helmet with Oregon State QB Ryan Katz. The issue here is that it's only that he won't start, not necessarily that he won't play. His absence to start the game could get UW's inside running game going early.
Final prediction: Washington 34 Arizona State 28
Washington will get a few turnovers and the offense will continue to hit on all cylinders.