To many, Arizona State’s Saturday matchup with Washington should really be an easy win for the Sun Devils.
After all, ASU comes into the game with a 3-1 conference record, while the Huskies sit at 1-2. Arizona State will also have starting quarterback Taylor Kelly for the first time in over a month. The Sun Devils should have no problem winning this game, right?
Brock Huard of 710 ESPN in Seattle says not so fast.
“You’ve got four NFL guys on that Husky defense,” Huard told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “You’ve got four guys that are going to be drafted in May.”
Huard is talking about Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton, Hau’oli Kikaha and Marcus Peters, the four players that make Washington’s defense as tough as it is.
“Shaq Thompson may be a first-round pick. He is a great player. Their nose tackle (Danny Shelton) is a really good player. He’s going to play in the NFL a long time.”
Kikaha, a senior linebacker from Hawaii, leads the nation in sacks with 12.5 for the season. His 29.5 career sacks put him a half-sack shy of Washington’s current all-time leader, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. If he keeps his current pace, he will finish the season with 23 sacks, putting him second behind former Sun Devil Terrell Suggs for most sacks by a Pac-12 player in a single season.
“Their defensive end, (Hau’oli) Kikaha, had he not had two torn ACLs, you’d be hearing him, any way you’re hearing him in Mel Kiper’s first two rounds.”
Washington is second in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation for sacks, largely in part to Kikaha. Shelton is also in the top five in the nation, with 7.5 sacks.
Huard said this game is a must-win for Arizona State if they want to be considered a contending team.
“You tell me if Arizona State is really that team that’s taken that step, because it feels like every year, they put some nice wins together, and every year they have kind of ‘that game’ that’s on their schedule you just say, ‘Man, you cannot lose that game,'” Huard said. “If you’re going to be a program that’s going to compete legitimately for championships year in and year out, you can’t go to Seattle and lose.”
But Huard believes that Washington’s defense is good enough to make this game “interesting.”
“I think you’re also going to see Shaq Thompson at running back, and much like Seattle, with the Seahawks going to Charlotte finding a way to win, I think you’re going to see everything thrown at Arizona State. Everything is at their disposal. If that means Shaq’s going to play a ton of snaps both ways, he may very well see that.”
The Huskies may also have Mother Nature on their side, with a heavy chance of rain in the forecast for Saturday night.
“They’re going to hope for massive rain and massive problems with the weather Saturday night, and hope to slow it down and let their four NFL guys on defense — the fourth being their cornerback, Marcus Peters — match up with Jaelen Strong and keep that game interesting and put the pressure back squarely on Arizona State.”