SEATTLE — The season has reached the midpoint for No. 20 Washington and there are no glaring holes or ugly marks on the first six games.
But that doesn’t mean it has been smooth for the Huskies, or that the path is clear for a second-half run. If Washington (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) can’t knock off Arizona State on Saturday, the Huskies would endure a fifth straight season with at least one three-game losing streak under coach Steve Sarkisian.
“We played a good first half of football against some really good teams,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “But just as we’ve been all season long, we’re an excellent second-half football team. We’re going to go out in the second half and play a great half of the season and it starts Saturday against Arizona State. We’re going to come out of the blocks playing fast, physical football and play like we’re capable of playing.”
Sarkisian stuck to the second-half metaphor on more than one occasion on Monday. He pointed out that Washington has scored on its first drive of the third quarter in each game this season. The fifth-year head coach stressed the importance of doing that with its season coming off consecutive losses at Stanford and Saturday’s 45-24 setback against No. 2 Oregon. The Huskies trailed 31-24 entering the fourth quarter but were outscored 14-0 down the stretch to lose their 10th straight against their neighbors to the south.
Sarkisian knows the importance of Saturday’s game against the Sun Devils to make sure the momentum built from the Huskies 4-0 start isn’t completely evaporated. It’s the end to a brutal three-week stretch for the Huskies with a break on the other side. After facing Arizona State, the Huskies return home for struggling California, followed by a week off and a home game against Colorado.
“We place a huge emphasis on that first drive and setting the momentum there in the third quarter,” Sarkisian said. “This is the third quarter of the season. It’s our first drive. We get the ball. What are we going to do with it? I think it’s important for us to come out and make a statement on this drive in the way we play and the way we play this Saturday.”
It certainly won’t be an easy feat to accomplish against the Sun Devils, who have won seven straight against Washington. The Huskies have not won in Tempe since 2001. This will be the first time the Huskies and Sun Devils have faced since 2010.
The explosiveness of the Arizona State offense can be traced to the eye-opening individual numbers. It starts with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who is seventh in the nation in total offense with 355 yards per game — 327.5 of which come through the air. His main target, sophomore receiver Jaelen Strong, has 678 yards through the first six games, while grabbing four touchdowns.
Balance comes to Arizona State through running back Marion Grice, who is tied for the national lead with 10 touchdowns rushing.
“Very good football team, very good football team at home,” Sarkisian said. “I think the quarterback has got just a lot of game to him. … He’s just a scrappy guy, man, who makes all the plays when he has to make them. He runs when he has to run. He throws it. He throws the back-shoulder fade to Jaelen Strong extremely well. Grice, their running back, is probably the best running back that nobody’s heard of.”