Washington State (2-8, 0-7) at Arizona State (5-5, 3-4)
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. MST / 3:00 p.m. EST
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Point Spread: ASU by 22.5
TV / Radio: Pac-12 Network / 620 AM
ASU's Uniforms: Traditional Gold/Maroon/Gold
Weather Forecast: High 70s, partly cloudy
Series History: ASU leads the all-time series 23-13-2. The Cougars have not scored in a point in either of their last two visits to Tempe, losing 31-0 in 2008 and 42-0 in 2010.
Washington State's Last Game: Hosting No. 18 UCLA, it appeared that the Cougars were on their way to another staggering defeat. Thanks to four blocked kicks, a defensive touchdown and a safety, UCLA had a 37-7 halftime lead. But WSU fought on, and scored three touchdowns in the game's final 16 minutes to come within a recovered onside kick of making it interesting. Instead, the Bruins snagged the onside ball, and escaped with a 44-36 win.
ASU on Offense: The last few weeks have been a struggle for the Sun Devil offense and quarterback Taylor Kelly. After his sensational start, Kelly has struggled in recent weeks against defenses that have been successful in bringing consistent pressure.
Kelly and the ASU offensive line will not get a break against the Cougars. Washington State changed to a 3-4 scheme this year and the results have been great in terms of pressure. Last season, they ranked 94th in the nation in sacks, and now are 17th.
A big reason why is the play of Travis Long, who plays a similar hybrid rush role like ASU's Carl Bradford. Long already has 9.5 sacks on the year, and the Sun Devils offensive line will need to keep him and his fellow Cougars off Kelly for ASU to maintain a sustained attack. If not, this game could be a lot closer than it should be.
The Sun Devils will look to return to the running game this week with the trio of Cameron Marshall, D.J. Foster and Marion Grice, with Marshall in line for a lot of work on Senior Day. Washington State is a middle-of-the-road team in terms of stopping the run, and 300-pounder defensive tackle Ioana Guata and end Xavier Cooper have been solid at the point of attack, and each can contribute behind the line (14 combined tackles-for-loss). It will be interesting to see if ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is as quick to abandon the run as he has been in recent weeks.
Things should get interesting at the second level with the Sun Devil trio of backs and tight end Chris Coyle matching up against a very athletic and talented linebacking corps. Cyrus Coen and Darryl Monroe each covers tons of ground, can attack and blitz, and are effective in coverage.
Downfield, it will be a battle between two very disappointing groups. The ASU wide receivers have been non-factors in recent weeks, and their inability to get open has been a big factor in the struggles of Kelly and the entire offense. Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles will have one last home game to make an impact and put their disappointing senior seasons behind them, and Kevin Ozier will be looking for his first reception in three weeks. Strong safety Deone Bucannon is a versatile playmaker and the team's top tackler, but the unit struggles mightily in coverage. There are plays to be had for ASU should any of their targets manage some separation.
- ASU's Offensive Line vs. WSU's Pass Rush: With a quarterback who has struggled in a major way in the face of pressure, the Cougars could disrupt the Sun Devil offense with their aggressive scheme. The team loves to unleash Travis Long and his 9.5 sacks, and will bring pressure from a number of angles.
- TE Chris Coyle vs. SS Deone Bucannon: Coyle is closing in on some big time school records for tight ends, and he has a chance to reach them on Saturday in front of the home fans. Opposing him in the WSU secondary will be Bucannon, a talented playmaker who is solid in coverage, with four interceptions on the year.
- RB D.J. Foster vs. LB Cyrus Coen: ASU's best offensive playmaker has been quiet in recent weeks, and the team will need him to return to form both on the ground and through the air. Coen has been terrific for the Cougars this year, and has the athleticism to potentially counter Foster.
ASU on Defense: The Sun Devil defense has been gashed by the run in recent weeks, but that shouldn't be a concern on Saturday. No team in the nation has run the ball less (163 non-sack run plays) for less yards (329 in 10 games) than the Cougars. In Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, there's no time to worry about running when you are so busy throwing so many short passes.
This figures to play exceedingly to ASU's favor. With quarterback Jeff Tuel likely dropping back 40 to 50 times, ASU's top-notch pass rush will get a chance to pin their ears back and go to town. Tuel is a talented and accurate passer, but lacks the consistency to be very effective in this offense, and if ASU can knock him around, the entire offense can fall apart.
Getting to Tuel or backup Connor Halliday should be of little difficulty for the Sun Devils, as no team has allowed more than the 46 sacks that the Cougars have surrendered. Their offensive line has struggled all year long, and has surrendered 32 tackles-for-loss over the last three games. Against an ASU defense that ranks second nationally in both sacks and tackles-for-loss, this could be a brutal game for the Cougs and a stat-padding effort for Will Sutton and Carl Bradford.
The controversial departure of All-American wide receiver Marquess Wilson deprived the Cougars of the their best playermaker, but they have had a few young players step up. Freshmen Brett Bartolone (46 catches), Gabe Marks (44) and Dominique Williams (23) have all made progress in their starting roles. The Sun Devil secondary has struggled in coverage downfield lately, but they will now be facing an offense built on short, high-percentage passes. Tackling will be at a premium.
In the rare event that the Cougars will run the ball, the speedy Teondray Caldwell and more powerful Carl Winston will carry the load. Caldwell can make plays in space, putting a moderate amount of pressure on the Sun Devil linebackers to hold him in check.
- ASU's Pass Rush vs. WSU Offensive Line: This could very well decide the game. ASU defensive tackle Will Sutton is having an All-American year, and Carl Bradford should be in line for All-Pac-12 honors. If they can each play as they have recently, they could each very well pocket multiple sacks and throw the timing based passing attack of WSU into disarray.
Special Teams: ASU's special teams continue to be a mixed bag. Punter Josh Hubner continues to be great and should be in line for a first team All-Pac-12 slot with his powerful, yet accurate leg. Kicker Jon Mora connected on his lone attempt—from 28 yards—last week, but has yet to prove his reliability. Outside of Rashad Ross' touchdown return against Colorado, the Sun Devil return game in both phases has been unimpressive.
Last week, the Cougar special teams were a disaster, allowing four blocked kicks by UCLA. WSU kicker Andrew Furney has been inconsistent this year, connecting on just 11 of his 17 field goals, and punter Michael Bowlin has been merely solid, averaging 42.1 yards on his kicks, despite plenty of practice. Teondray Caldwell has been excellent on kickoff returns, averaging 26.1 yards per return. Leon Brooks leads the team with a 10.6-yard average on his seven returns.
ASU's To Do List:
- Protect Kelly
- Exploit a bad WSU offensive line
- Don't turn the ball over
- Feed Foster, Grice and Coyle. They're hungry.
What It All Means: It's hard to imagine a better tonic for what ails the Sun Devils than this home date against a Washington State team that is in the midst of off-field turmoil. While there remains a possibility of ASU getting caught in a trap game situation with a lowly opponent and the Duel in the Desert looming next week, the Sun Devils should be able to dominate this game defensively against a porous offensive line. On the other side, the offense figures to make plenty of plays against a weak secondary, and while this won't be a blowout, it should serve as a comfortable ASU win.
Prediction: ASU wins 38-17
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