The Washington-Arizona State football game began in an uncomfortable manner for the home team when a Huskies’ trick play backfired on the first snap for all the country to see and led to an opposing touchdown with barely three minutes gone. For a moment, it seemed like it was going to be another long night against the Sun Devils.
Yet that was the only deception and despair for the home team as the Huskies played it straight the rest of the way and toughed out a 27-20 victory on Saturday night in a nationally televised matchup on ESPN.
“We’ve got to quit playing to the level of the other team,” said Ty Jones, who caught one of three UW touchdown passes thrown by Jake Browning. “But we got the W.”
The 10th-ranked Huskies (3-1 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) grabbed the lead near the end of the first quarter and did everything in their power to hang on to it. They didn’t register a sack but senior inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, last week’s Pac-12 defensive player of the week, should rate consideration once more after coming up with a herculean 20-tackle performance. Washington gave up 104 yards rushing to Sun Devils running back Eno Benjamin but limited quarterback Many Wilkins to 104 yards passing.
That was enough to keep Arizona State (2-2, 0-1) from adding to its recent and hard-to-explain dominance of the Huskies—11 victories in the previous 12 games coming in. On a night where dark clouds hovered above the stadium before kickoff but the rains never came, the two teams settled in and slugged it out.
The Huskies still had to recover from that misguided opening play from scrimmage, a double pass that was disastrous. Wide receiver Andre Baccellia, 2-for-2 in throwing the ball in his career, let go with a third attempt and served up an interception right to ASU cornerback Chase Lucas, who returned the ball to the Husky 20. The Sun Devils scored five plays later on Benjamin’s 1-yard run. It was a gift.
“I was thinking that was on me,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “I was wishing we didn’t call it and put our defense in that position. But we’re going to take chances.”
However, the Huskies responded in impressive fashion, driving 80 yards down the field to tie the game on the next series. Browning, topping 10,000 yards in career total offense along the way, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Aaron Fuller in the middle of the end zone.
Arizona State got the ball back and reclaimed the lead at 10-7 on a 48-yard field goal by Brandon Ruiz. The drive started in an ominous way—UW special-teamer Austin Joyner had to be helped off the field on the kickoff after slamming into two Sun Devils, going helmet to helmet with one of them, and getting snapped backward. Two trainers walked the woozy Joyner to the sideline and he didn’t play again.
It was the Huskies’ turn to score next and they didn’t waste any time, moving 75 yards in just five plays. Jones hauled in a 24-yard pass from Browning to put his team in ASU territory and then the lanky sophomore made an acrobatic 19-yard catch in the end zone with a defender draped all over him, putting the UW back in front 14-10 with 57 seconds remaining in the first quarter. It was the sophomore's fourth TD catch in four games.
“It was a weird game,” Huskies cornerback Jordan Miller said. “But as a defense, that’s what we want—is a boxing match.”
As free-wheeling as the opening quarter was with points, the teams stiffened on defense in the second period. Peyton Henry’s 26-yard field goal accounted for all of the scoring, giving the Huskies a 17-10 advantage at halftime.
The teams swapped field goals on the first two series of the third quarter, with Ruiz converting a 41-yarder for ASU and Henry answering by kicking one through from 29 yards out, keeping the Huskies in front 20-13. Browning, ticking off one milestone after another as a four-year starting quarterback, surpassed 10,000 career passing yards on this possession for Washington.
Defense took over for the rest of the third quarter. Burr-Kirven, all over the field making plays, forced a fumble with a big hit on ASU’s Trelon Smith and he recovered the ball himself at the Huskies 40. Two plays later, the Sun Devils came up with a rare commodity—a sack, the only one of the game. True freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson burst through to spin Browning around and drop him for a two-yard loss.
The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter as they pushed each other to the end. Browning delivered a 5-yard scoring pass to redshirt freshman Cade Otton, who toed the line in the right corner of the end zone with just under 11 minutes left to play.
Arizona State answered one more time with quarterback Manny Wilkins’ 1-yard TD run with 4:16 remaining to pull within a score. However, the Sun Devils couldn’t get the ball again and went back to the desert with its second consecutive defeat, both on the road.
While they came out of this one victorious, the Huskies still haven’t given a true indication of how good they are. They’ve had three close, physical games, winning two of them. They ran the ball well against ASU, with senior Myles Gaskin and sophomore Salvon Ahmed picking up 86 and 71 yards, respectively. Yet their defensive front couldn’t get into the Sun Devils backfield and lay their hands on Wilkins. They couldn’t put any real distance between themselves and the visitors.
BYU, earlier a surprise winner at Wisconsin, is next up for the Huskies at home. The 25th-ranked Cougars should provide a stern test for them in another Saturday night game, only this one will be broadcast on FOX. Washington isn’t concerned about style points, just the bottom line.
“This was an awkward game obviously,” Miller said of ASU. “But it doesn’t have to be pretty. It can be a four-quarter fight—and that’s what it was. We know we’re a good team.”