ASU’s defense in for toughest test yet vs. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.

Oct 3, 2022, 6:04 PM | Updated: Oct 4, 2022, 8:26 pm

Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies throws against the UCLA Bruins in the first quarter ...

Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies throws against the UCLA Bruins in the first quarter at Rose Bowl Stadium on September 30, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils continue their gauntlet section of the schedule with a third ranked opponent in as many games and fourth of the season already.

After playing three teams now ranked in the top 11 in Weeks 2, 4 and 5, ASU now hosts No. 21 Washington, who would’ve been in the top 15 had it not lost to UCLA this past weekend.

“We’re going to have to play mistake-free, error-free football to be in this game,” interim head coach Shaun Aguano said Monday. “Our kids understand what needs to be done.

“We’re going to have to stop the quarterback. They have a transfer running back, as well, we’re going to have to make sure that we contain him and then not give up the big plays. I think this quarterback loves to go vertical more than anybody else and so we have to make sure that we do not give up those big plays.”

That combination is Indiana transfer QB Michael Penix Jr. and Virginia transfer RB Wayne Taulapapa.

Washington boasts one of the best offenses in the country, ranking No. 7 in the nation in total yards per game (506.6) and No. 12 in points per contest at 41.6.

Most of that has to do with the arm of Penix Jr., who has thrown for 1,733 yards this season — the most in college football. He’s also completed 16 touchdown passes (fifth most) to three interceptions — two of which came last week — on 65% passing (125-for-191).

In comparison to ASU’s previous opponents with lethal offenses, USC ranks 19th in yards per game at 480.4, Oklahoma State is 20th (478.2) and Utah is 21st (476.8). And when it comes to scoring offense, Oklahoma State ranks fifth in the country at 46.2 points per game, USC is 10th (42.2) and Utah is 11th (42.0).

Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said Monday that Penix Jr. might be the best quarterback Arizona State has faced all season, which includes the likes of OSU’s Spencer Sanders, Utah’s Cam Rising and USC’s Caleb Williams.

“This guy can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball,” Henderson said. “He’s got a strong arm and you know where he’s going to be at — he’s going to be in the pocket. He can stand back there and deliver that throw all around the field and he knows exactly where to go with it.

“He’s got some playmakers on the outside and he’s got a little running back that can do his thing too, so that’s what I noticed from him compared to all the other guys.”

However, when it comes to Washington’s running game, Henderson won’t have to worry as much about Penix Jr. escaping the pocket like Williams did last week. Penix only has 15 rushing attempts on the year for 25 yards and no scores, with his longest rush of the season going for 12 yards.

And while the Huskies’ ground attack only ranks No. 84 in the nation at 142.6 yards per game, the Sun Devils need to improve their tackling performance from a week ago to bring down the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Taulapapa.

The Washington running back is averaging 6.1 yards per carry and 71 yards per game. He’s also scored three rushing touchdowns and one receiving TD, the latter of which has come on his eight catches for 96 yards this season.

“The biggest thing with us is when we miss tackles. You got guys there, you still got to wrap up the ball carrier and tackle — you got to grab cloth,” Henderson said.

“There are so many times a guy runs right through our arms. We got him, we’re wrapped, we grabbed, but we didn’t grab cloth. So that’s the biggest thing we talked about this week is grabbing cloth and wrapping up and getting more guys to the run.”

Arizona State Football

Wide receiver Elijhah Badger #2 of the Arizona State Sun Devils catches a 65-yard touchdown recepti...

Arizona Sports

Former ASU WR Elijhah Badger transfers to Florida after considering Arizona

Former Arizona State wide receiver Elijhah Badger is transferring to Florida, choosing the SEC school after considering Arizona.

1 day ago

Michael Crow, ASU president...

Jesse Morrison

State of the Sun Devils Podcast: Graham Rossini is reportedly Arizona State’s next AD

On the latest edition of the State of the Sun Devils podcast, the guys discussed the expected hire of Graham Rossini as ASU's next AD.

3 days ago

Arizona State is expected to name Executive Senior Associate AD and Chief Business Officer Graham R...

Arizona Sports

Reports: Arizona State expected to name Graham Rossini as athletic director

Arizona State is expected to name Executive Senior Associate AD and Chief Business Officer Graham Rossini as the new athletic director.

4 days ago

Arizona State men's basketball coach Bobby Hurley...

Kevin Zimmerman

ASU’s Bobby Hurley, Kenny Dillingham have recruiting juice despite half-year without AD

Bobby Hurley and Kenny Dillingham have recruiting momentum despite Arizona State hitting the half-year mark without and athletic director.

4 days ago

Kenny Dillingham donated to help editor Jason Scheer after Scheer's dog was bi...

Character Counts

Arizona State’s Kenny Dillingham overlooks rivalry to donate to Wildcats in need

Arizona State football coach Kenny Dillingham donated to help Jason and Shelby Scheer care for their rattlesnake-bit dog.

5 days ago

malik mcclain...

Nick Borgia

Arizona State adds more size at WR with Penn State, Florida State transfer Malik McClain

Former Penn State wide receiver Malik McClain announced his commitment to join ASU in a social media post on Saturday.

6 days ago

ASU’s defense in for toughest test yet vs. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.