SEATTLE — Saturday afternoon’s game at Sun Devil Stadium looks like a favorable matchup for Bishop Sankey and the Washington ground game.
Arizona State ranks 77th in the nation against the run, allowing 168.8 yards rushing per game. Sankey leads the nation with an average of 149.8 yards rushing. Ask UW’s understated junior standout about the matchup and, well, a shoulder shrug amounts to a burst of excitement for Sankey.
“They are a good D,” Sankey said of the Sun Devils. “They’ve been playing good this whole season, so we just have to prepare for them just like any other team and just like another game, go out there and work on the things we need to work on and be as polished as we can.”
Two running backs have shined in Sun Devil Stadium this season.
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for 193 yards on 15 carries last month. USC’s Tre Madden had 128 yards on 20 carries two weeks later. ASU did, however, win both games.
ASU coach Todd Graham said Sankey is as good as anyone the Sun Devils have seen.
“The thing that has been our nemesis all year has been the big-play runs,” Graham said. “The key to run defense is great tackling. … We’ve got to attack and initiate and create turnovers.”
Sankey rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns in UW’s loss to No. 2 Oregon last week. He had 125 yards and two scores a week earlier at then-No. 5 Stanford. It was the first time either the Ducks or Cardinal had allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Sankey is on pace for a school-record 1,798 yards during the regular season.
“Day in and day out, he’s so consistent,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I’m really proud of everything he’s accomplished up to this point.”
Junior offensive lineman Erik Kohler had been easing his way back into the rotation on Washington’s offensive line the past few weeks. Then starting left guard Dexter Charles went down with a shoulder injury against Oregon, and Kohler was thrust into action for the first time in more than a year.
“It was an unfortunate circumstance with Dexter, but that’s what every O-lineman is trained to do, to go in at any time, at any moment,” Kohler said. “It felt good to play again.”
Sarkisian credited Kohler’s recognition of a blitz that helped spring Sankey for his 60-yard touchdown run against Oregon.
“A guy with experience can see those things and react to those things a little quicker than maybe an inexperienced player,” Sarkisian said.
Kohler injured his knee at LSU in September 2012 and missed the rest of the season. He then “almost” broke a bone, as he described it, in his left foot this past summer, leaving him in a walking boot until late September.
Now, he said, he’s “feeling pretty good. Just getting back into everything and getting my confidence back and just getting in playing shape again.”
If Charles is unable to play against Arizona State on Saturday, Kohler will likely get the nod for his first start since that LSU game.
“I’ll go where they put me. Doesn’t matter where,” said Kohler, who started 20 straight games from 2010 to 2012, mostly at right tackle. James Atoe and Shane Brostek would back up Kohler.
• To combat the heat in Tempe, Sarkisian said the Huskies will rely more on backups. The forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 80s for the 3 p.m. kickoff. “We have quality backups that are going to play quite a bit Saturday. I think that’s to our advantage, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said. “I love our depth. I love the condition that we’re in as a football team.” Sarkisian said the team has placed extra emphasis on hydration and sleep this week, too.
• Senior Travis Coons will handle kickoff duties once again this week, although Sarkisian wouldn’t commit to Coons taking over duties for the rest of the season. Freshman Cameron Van Winkle has been limited by a back injury.