It's easy to get motivated to play Wisconsin, USC, Stanford and Notre Dame. It's hard to get motivated to play at Washington State. And It's impossible to not be motivated about the opportunity to win the Pac-12 South. Motivation won't be an issue for Arizona State.
With the gap from UCLA at only one game, every game seems like a must-win for the Sun Devils. Obviously facing the mediocre Cougars won't garner the hype of the earlier season contests, yet the showdown in Pullman may be even more important.
Most of the media member are expecting ASU to prevail, while some are more skeptical of the pick than others. The level of confidence varies. The worst case scenario piece Cody Ulm wrote provided nightmares for Sparky's disciples.
For the Sun Devils to avoid another slip up in Pullman and move on from the past, they need to take care of three things.
1. Jump out to an early lead
The House of Sparky readers are used to us requesting ASU to jump out to an early lead. Our goal isn't to sound like a broken record. We are simply providing the Sun Devils with some advice on how to take care of business.
Todd Graham admitted the team comes out with extra nerves in away games. The best way to eliminate that problem? Start out fast! If you're up 7-0, 10-0 etc, it's hard to feel nervous. The projected 51-degree weather at kickoff can feel much nicer if Marion Grice makes his usual trips to the end zone.
Regardless of the requested early advantage, Washington State plans on throwing at least around 55 times. Balanced offensive attacks present more problems for most defenses, including the Sun Devils. The game plan for Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Davon Coleman and so on won't be as complicated as normal: sack the quarterback and dare them to run.
Going up from the outset will also place pressure on Connor Halliday. The junior quarterback makes numerous questionable decision despite the scoreboard, epitomizing the gun-slinger mentality. If the scoreboard was slightly lopsided in ASU's favor, Halliday's willingness to take even more risks rises.
2. Use the criticism as motivation
Some people prefer to brush off criticism, some people use it as motivation. The Sun Devils should do the latter.
The questions about the weather, the cold, the crazy fans on the road aren't going away anytime soon. But those conversations will be put on mute for at least a couple days if ASU defeats Washington State. The environment should be electric, as the school decided to cancel classes due to Halloween and the game.
The student section out here in Tempe, the Inferno, is routinely rowdy once the verdict is practically signed, sealed and delivered. Assuming the Sun Devils play up to their capabilities, the Cougar faithful may need to hit the Halloween parties a little earlier than expected.
ASU needs to find success away from the Echo of the Buttes to accomplish their first goal: win the Pac-12 South. The problem being: most believe their road problems are going to prevent them from doing so. Sounds like lots of hating and doubting.
The Sun Devils not only want to win for personal satisfaction, but also to prove us dummies with the microphones wrong.
3. Focus on fundamentals
Spectacular one-handed snags by Grice won't be necessary. Jaelen Strong jumping over the top of defenses won't be necessary. Sutton and Bradford teaming up for five sacks won't be necessary.
All of the above would be helpful and may happen, yet executing on the fundamentals of football will be plenty for ASU. On the other hand, Washington State are the one's who need the game-changing plays.
On paper, the Sun Devils outclass the Cougars from quarterback to running back to both sides of the lines and more. Todd Graham won't and shouldn't be conservative. Trick plays or gimmicks are unneeded risks due to the clear talent advantage ASU boasts.
Turnovers are the sole way Washington State keeps it close. At home, Taylor Kelly takes care of the rock as well as most quarterbacks in college football. And now Kelly must transfer those mistake-free performances to the road.