Washington State needs to pull off tricks that turn into Halloween treats, otherwise Arizona State will prevail easily.
Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State combined to post 169 point against the Washington State defense. Those tests are very comparable to the Sun Devils, who average the sixth most points (45.4) in the country. The Cougars surrender 29.9 points per game, which isn't terrible, yet the numbers are clearly worse versus tough competition.
After examining the matchups on paper, ASU gets the nod in nearly every category.
The famous Haber's Hunches were thankful for the bye week also, getting time to regroup before the home stretch of the season. Let's not diminish my 13-8 record, but I hold myself to higher standards.
First Hunch: Connor Halliday throws for less than 350 yards and tosses at least three interceptions
Connor Halliday averages 349.5 yards passing per game and 2.1 interceptions per game. The yards are nice and the mistakes are obviously costly. The numbers are deceiving because of his unprecedented 53.5 attempts per game.
Washington State at 4-4 may be shocking, but its schedule to date may be among the softest in the conference. Without games against Southern Utah (division 1-AA) and Idaho (FBS), Holliday's statistics would read: 2,069 yards, nine touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Because of that easy two game stretch, half of his touchdowns passes essentially go out the window.
The turnover problems are an issue for Washington State, yet they grant Halliday opportunities to rack up yards because of one-sided affairs. Against Oregon, the team lost 62-38. In that contest, Halliday accumulated 557 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Comparing Oregon and ASU won't turn out well for anyone out here in the Valley of the Sun. We should expect the Cougars to stay closer against the Sun Devils, which will ironically hurt Halliday's line. In addition, Paul Randolph plans on bringing heavy pressure, which signals bad news for the junior quarterback. Halliday won't have the necessary time to wait for recievers to get open down field because of Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and more.
Regardless of pressure, Halliday is destined for mistakes and misreads. And when you factor in pressure, three-plus interceptions for ASU seems fitting. The Sun Devils' secondary ranks second best in the Pac-12 and Halliday won't be able to overcome it.
Second Hunch: Osahon Irabor has at least one interception, two pass deflections and four tackles
Osahon Irabor will be the main reason Halliday struggles on Thursday. The elite corner spent a lot of time in the offseason to improve, and the results are transferring over to game day. Halliday tries to throw into some tight spaces and those are going to turn into picks by Irabor.
Two years ago I sat down with Irabor and he admitted he was not good at catching the rock. As the old saying goes, cornerbacks are smaller versions of wide receivers without the hands component. In the present day, he is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and made the weakness one of his many strengths.
The biggest pick came against Notre Dame, when he returned it the house on the first play of the fourth quarter to keep ASU alive. Irabor is not afraid of the big moment, he embraces it. Irabor loves taking on the opponent's best wide receiver, and more times than not, he wins the matchup.
Halliday forces it to Gabe Marks, who boasts the most receptions on Washington State with 59. There is no doubt about it, Irabor and Marks are going head-to-head. The Sun Devils' version of Revis Island will get plenty of shots at picking off or deflecting Halliday's passes.
Regarding the projected four tackles, the Cougars love to run the spread offense. Irabor tackles in the open field better than most cornerbacks with sound fundamentals, and that asset will be on display.
Final Hunch: ASU scores at least 45 points
ASU plays offense at an elite level. Washington State plays defense poorly. Combine the two polar opposites and you get Taylor Kelly and company firing on all cylinders. My first two hunches were pretty bold, so I did not feel too bad about being relatively conservative here.
Establishing Marion Grice over the past two games has taken this unit to a new level. We all know Grice leads the nation in touchdowns with 18, but the Sun Devils still needed more. Mike Norvell wants to be more balanced to allow Kelly to take more shots downfield, and the plan has come into fruition lately.
Kelly posses an abundance of weapons that will overwhelm the Cougars, despite ASU's predicaments away from Tempe.