Arizona State and Washington to collide in battle of Pac-12’s best defenses
Cold and rainy weather is the last thing offenses need when two top Pac-12 defenses collide in Seattle this weekend.
The Arizona State Sun Devil football team travels for the first time in nearly a month to face Washington on Saturday.
Things got nerve-racking in Sun Devil Stadium last weekend as ASU and USC played close up until the fourth quarter. Two Sun Devil touchdowns silenced any doubt in a 31-16 victory to make ASU bowl-eligible.
Also last week, Washington’s defense played well in the first half against No. 4 Oregon, allowing just 10 points and 190 yards. However, Oregon eventually turned up its scoring and the Huskies could not keep up in a 26-16 defeat.
What: Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) at Washington (4-5, 3-3)
When: Saturday at 5 p.m.
Betting Line via FanDuel: ASU -5.5
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
Weather report: Temperatures are predicted to fluctuate between 51 and 47 degrees, while there is a 95% chance of rain at night, according to Weather.com.
ASU linebackers and defensive line provide defensive building block
The Sun Devils come into Saturday’s battle of top Pac-12 defenses averaging fewest yards allowed per game in the conference at 328.8, just over eight yards better than the Huskies.
ASU’s rushing defense particularly stood out against USC after two subpar weeks of performing. Arizona State allowed only 92 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry against the Trojans.
The Sun Devil defense impressed in the passing game as well, getting two interceptions and only allowing a 53% completion rate and 220 yards through the air.
The linebackers impressed ASU head coach Herm Edwards last week in both areas.
“Linebackers obviously have to play the run, but also play the pass because they throw so much, and I think those guys played well,” Edwards said.
The defensive line also played its part in stopping the Trojans. One lineman in particular has his eyes set on the next level.
Graduate senior D.J. Davidson had his best game in weeks against USC with six total tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss, his best mark since the 2021 opener against Southern Utah.
“We put it on D.J. and we put it on our d-line,” Edwards said. “He was one that we said ‘Look, you got to win at the point because if we’re going to stop them from running, you got to be the focal point.'”
Davidson’s performance on the stat sheet looked more like the player who has NFL ambitions. Edwards said Davidson has impressed throughout the year, even if some games haven’t shown that statistically.
“This is his best season since we’ve been here, there’s no doubt,” Edwards said. “He plays right in there. There’s not a lot of room where he plays in the box and they double him a lot and do things to him. I think the more he can play like that, it helps him, but it helps us too, especially.”
Another week, another interim coach on opposing sideline
Over the two games since ASU’s bye week, the Sun Devils have only faced interim head coaches. Saturday will be no different.
Washington defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will step in as interim head coach after head coach Jimmy Lake was suspended following a sideline incident in last week’s loss to Oregon.
This marks the third straight week where ASU has faced an interim head coach. The Sun Devils are 1-1 against interim coaches in 2021 with a loss against Washington State (Jake Dickert replaced Nick Rolovich) and a win last week against USC (Donte Williams replaced Clay Helton).
Edwards said even if coaches change during a season, the players a team has are still there.
“You’re always going to miss those guys because they’re familiar with the routine of how the guy might call the game, but I think whoever sits in that seat of having to do that [has] to realize that the players don’t change and you want to put them in the best position they can be in to be successful,” Edwards said.
Gregory has done just that while working with the defense, particularly with the linebackers in his eighth season as assistant for the position. The Huskies lead the nation with only 141.4 passing yards allowed per game. Washington leads the Pac-12 in plenty of other defensive categories as well, including first downs allowed (160) and scoring defense (19.7).
Washington’s “very, very, very strong” defense has Edwards expecting no shortage of physicality.
“We anticipate it to be a very physical game on both sides of the ball,” Edwards said.