clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ASU Football: The cynical Sun Devil's guide to Washington State

Mike Leach's team could gobble up the Sun Devils if they aren't careful Thursday. And yes, that turkey neck pun was intended.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Mike Leach's team could gobble up the Sun Devils if they aren't careful Thursday. And yes, that turkey neck pun was intended.
Mike Leach's team could gobble up the Sun Devils if they aren't careful Thursday. And yes, that turkey neck pun was intended.
Otto Greule Jr

Editor's note: Much like the Spartan children who were forced to survive in the wilderness for one year as part of their training, this generation of Arizona State football fans have been hardened from a trial by fire in pessimism. Almost without fail, the dreams of Sun Devil nation have been swiftly stomped to an oblivion each time they have gotten their hopes too high in the 21st century. So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that ASU football has spawned a Debbie Downer like our own Cody Ulm. Over the next four weeks, he will be examining the worst case scenarios for Arizona State as they look to remain in the driver's seat of the Pac-12 South. WARNING: these columns aren't necessarily what he expects to happen. They're simply intended as a whimsical view of what might occur if all goes to hell. Without further ado, welcome to the dark side.

To an Arizona State Sun Devil, there are three types of Cougars.

The first, a ferocious mountain cat, should be avoided at all costs. The second, an equally ferocious middle-aged human female with an insatiable thirst for men half her age, is a bit more inviting (especially if you're a starving college student searching for a sugar momma like myself). And lastly, there is the invitingly-awful football team from the Pacific Northwest which has long been the laughing stock of the Pac-12.

But I'm here today with a public service announcement for Sun Devils everywhere: brace yourselves for the worst when ASU visits Washington State this Halloween.

On paper, there isn't much to be afraid of. The Cougars are 4-4 and feature a defense that is deathly-allergic to the term "three-and-out." In three of its last four games, Washington State has allowed 52 or more points to the opposing team, losing by an average margin of 30 points in those "contests."

In the other corner, you have a No. 25 ranked Arizona State team that is averaging the sixth most points in the nation (45.4) and is fresh off an upset over the Cougars' vastly-superior cross-state brethren.

At this point, you're probably wondering why odds-makers are only spotting Washington State 11.5 points. I counter your bewilderment with one chilling fact: Arizona State hasn't won a cold-weather football game up north in the second half of a season since the team topped Washington on the road, 39-19, back in Nov. of 2008.

Sure, you might say that the statistic I just rattled off is so stupidly specific that it makes Tim Kurkjian seem sane. But it doesn't take a Pokemaster to realize that ice is super-effective to the satanic beast known as a Sun Devil.

It was about 56 degrees in Corvallis around the time of kickoff during Arizona State's visit to Oregon State last November. That stands as the coldest temperature ASU has had to deal with in a regular season game in the Todd Graham era and the Sun Devils lost to the Beavers, 36-26, that day.

When the Sun Devils take the field Thursday in Pullman, Was., the forecast is expected to be somewhere between 45 and 39 degrees. So while Todd Graham may be saying all the right things about "no excuses," there's really no way to prepare a Tempe-based team for the cold unless the boosters can spring for a football field-sized walk-in freezer.

Then again, Graham hasn't found much success outside of the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium no matter the conditions.

Over the past two years, the Sun Devils are 4-5 away from home, including an 0-2 record in 2013. As our own Jason Galvin pointed out in Monday's matchup column, Graham's current signature win outside of the state of Arizona is probably last year's 27-17 victory at Cal (depressing much?).

Most will steer the blame toward Taylor Kelly's mind-boggling home-road splits but an offense can only be expected to do so much in a hostile environment. At the end of the day, Arizona State is a defensive-oriented team and Graham will be the first to preach that. Yet in their last five non-bowl games played on the road or a neutral turf, they've allowed 34 or more points.

And while the college football world loves to bag on Leach's Air Raid offense for being past its prime, the Cougars are still averaging 373.1 yards through the air (sixth most in the nation) and more than 30 points per game.

On Monday, Graham welcomed the challenge sharing he feels it's easier to scheme against a pass-oriented offense over a ground-and-pound team. But just like the Devils, the Cougars will have had 12 days to prepare due to their bye week. So there very well could be a few tricks and treats waiting for ASU this Hallows' Eve.

As much fun as it would be for the ESPN-viewing audience, the Sun Devils can ill afford to get caught up in a good ol' fashioned Pac-12 shootout on the road. Not including his flawless Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl performance, Kelly has tossed eight interceptions in his past five games outside of Tempe. To put that into perspective, half the interceptions Kelly has thrown in his entire ASU career have come across that span.

In other words, the margin of error will be slim, especially against a Cougars team that knows this is a must-win if the program is going to earn its first bowl game since 2003.

Worst of all, Arizona State has the enigmatic misfortune of being ranked this week. The previous two times the Devils have managed to crack the top-25 in 2013, they've rewarded their fanbase by imploding against Stanford (understandable) and Notre Dame (unforgivable).

All things considered, I'm still not bold enough to pick the upset here. But I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Washington State covers the spread. And if you've decided to loot your neighborhood for candy instead of viewing the game because you consider it a "gimme," I certainly would reconsider.

The Cynical Sun Devil's Worst Case Scenario: Three of Arizona State's offensive linemen come down with a case of Mr. Deed's-worthy frostbite during pregame warmups...2.4 seconds into the game, Taylor Kelly realizes he is no longer in beautiful, sunny Tempe and proceeds to rack up four turnovers, including a butt-fumble...Mike Leach finds a loophole in the NCAA rule book that allows an Achilles' heel-less Michael Crabtree to suit up for Cougars. After a 17-catch, 330-yard, three touchdown performance, Crabtree is inspired to proclaim "suck it, Calvin Johnson" in his post-game interview...Connor Halliday finishes the day with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Since the soulless Nick Saban believes Halloween is for communists, he decides to watch the game from home and Halliday's performance impresses him enough to make an unprecedented switch to the Air-Raid offense midseason...Todd Graham is so infuriated with his team's performance that he forces each player to turn in 10-page book report on Leach's autobiography, "Swing Your Sword," by 6 AM Friday...AP voters decide they have been betrayed by Arizona State for the last time and the Sun Devils don't receive a single vote for the next half decade.