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Arizona HS alumni N’Keal Harry, Byron Murphy to face off Saturday

(AP Photos)

TEMPE, Ariz. — There was a time when star Washington cornerback Byron Murphy considered committing to ASU.

In October 2015, wide receiver N’Keal Harry committed to stay in-state and join the Sun Devils. The two attended high schools in Arizona — Harry at Chandler, Murphy at Saguaro — and they had discussed their futures.

“I honestly thought he would’ve committed here, but when he committed to Washington I completely understood where he was coming from,” Harry said.

The bond between them goes much deeper than their Arizona roots.

“I spent a lot of time at his house, I lived with him at one point,” Harry said Tuesday. “That’s really my brother.”

Saturday will be the first time the two face each other in a live game since high school; the Washington CB redshirted his freshman year then missed all but two Pac-12 games last season with a fractured metatarsal in his foot.

Murphy didn’t miss a beat upon his return, recording five tackles and three defended passes against Washington State in the Pac-12 finale and then getting seven tackles against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Through three games this season, Murphy already has seven passes defended, matching his total in the six games he played last season.

Harry will get a first-hand look at how his old friend has improved since they were kids.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “I know how special of a player he is. He’s basically like a wide receiver playing cornerback with cornerback hips and cornerback quickness, so it’s a matchup I’ve been looking forward to all offseason.”

Establishing the run game

After a promising debut for sophomore Eno Benjamin, the running back hasn’t been able to recreate his production.

Against University of Texas San Antonio, he ran for 131 yards, averaging 8.2 per carry.

In the two games since, he has accumulated just 48 yards, about 1.8 per carry.

“We didn’t run the ball well, at any point in time,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said, referencing the loss to San Diego State last weekend. “It’s not acceptable at all, it’s not who I want to be.”

That’s not to say it’s all on Benjamin. Head coach Herm Edwards said the team needs to find “continuity” on the offensive line as he settles on the best five players to get the bulk of the action.

Plus, Benjamin was cursed with two tough matchups in SDSU and Michigan State as he began his first season as a starter.

But it won’t get any easier as Pac-12 play gets underway.

Washington has been in the top 30 in rushing yards allowed per game every year since Chris Petersen became the head coach, according to TeamRankings.

Last year, the Huskies allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game at 107.6.

“Their defense is outstanding, one of the better defenses in college football,” Edwards said Monday.

Mix that with the Murphy-led secondary, and Washington has been able to establish itself as a Pac-12 frontrunner over the last two seasons.

Establishing the running game to complement the passing attack becomes ever more important against a talented unit like Washington in the large, noisy Husky Stadium.

“We want to run the football,” Likens said. “That’s what we do. I don’t want to be a guy that throws the football 50, 60 times a game.”

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