SEATTLE — Washington’s last game at Sun Devil Stadium ended with Arizona State completing an easy 50-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in UW’s stunning 24-17 loss on Oct. 17, 2009.
Four years later, on the heels of a 45-24 loss to an Oregon team that gashed the UW defense for 631 yards, the Huskies head back to the desert with more questions about their pass defense.
Those questions, however, were immediately batted away Tuesday by UW senior safety Sean Parker.
“We’re still confident,” Parker insisted. “We just gotta fix what we do. No matter who we play, it’s all about us and our preparation.”
The Huskies came into the Oregon game as one of the top-ranked pass defenses in the country — before Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
“Against a team like that, you can’t have mistakes or they’ll find them and gut you,” UW defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said. “That’s what happened.”
Washington allowed nine pass plays of 15 yards or more against Oregon, including gains of 43, 38, 65 and 30 yards.
“There were a couple mistakes we made that were a little bit uncharacteristic. And maybe the energy of the game got to us a little more than we would’ve liked,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said, adding: “We didn’t make a lot of plays down the field, maybe like we thought we would. And I’m sure our guys would love another shot at those plays.”
Come Saturday afternoon, Arizona State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) figures to take plenty of shots down the field against the No. 20 Huskies (4-2, 1-2). The Sun Devils rank ninth in the country with 342 yards passing per game, and UW defensive-backs coach Keith Heyward estimated that they create nine “explosion” plays each game.
So if there is an issue in the UW pass defense, quarterback Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils would likely be able to exploit it.
Heyward called the missteps by the Husky defenders “definitely correctable.”
“We were beating ourselves up when we watched that (Oregon game on film) because it was plays that not only we knew and saw that they were going to do, but that we practiced against all camp with our own offense,” he said. “Heads were hanging a little bit and we were all a little bit upset still about it, but like I said, there is no hangover.”
Kelly isn’t Mariota — that would be like mistaking The Monkees for The Beatles — but Arizona State’s quarterback is also a true dual threat with dangerous receiving options in Jaelen Strong, Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Chris Coyle.
Heyward compared Arizona State’s offense to UW’s new up-tempo attack, with the Sun Devils running one play every 22 seconds.
Wilcox likes to point out that defensive backs aren’t the only ones responsible for pass defense. It’s the job of the defensive line to contain the quarterback, which, as Mariota showed, is easier said than done against a good dual-threat attack.
“Obviously,” Wilcox said, “we’ve got to do a better job.”