Washington State's air raid offense under head coach Mike Leach is among the worst kept secrets in college football. The Cougars will pass the ball to their heart's content against their opponent. That system is why Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has made the pass defense one of the primary points of emphasis at practice this week.
"You can't give up seams and climbs and you have to be sound in space tackling," Graham said after practice Thursday. "They do such a great job with the screen game. Obviously we have to tackle well in space and make sure we don't give up any vertical lines so it becomes critical."
Washington State ranks first in the country with 477.6 passing yards per game, and as a result ranks No. 37 in points scored as well. Freshman quarterback Luke Falk took over for senior Connor Halliday in the USC game after Halliday's career was ended with a broken leg. Falk then started against Oregon State and in those two games has thrown the ball an absurd 118 times. He has 817 passing yards in those two games for seven touchdowns and just one interception.
"We've got to cover well, we've got to play great technique, obviously we've to got to be able to impact the quarterback and keep everything in front of us," Graham said. "We need takeaways, that's been the key to our success against them in the past so that's something that's vital to us."
As a result of the the high flying offense, the Cougars' wide receivers are some of the best statistically in the Pac-12. It starts with 6-foot-3 senior Vince Mayle, who has 86 catches for 1,152 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Behind him is another senior Isiah Myers with 68 grabs for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns. With such a spread out offense, the Sun Devils will have to work well in space against these two as well as five other WSU wide receivers who have at least 30 catches or more.
Arizona State will use their nickel package a lot too, which means more reps for players like D.J. Calhoun. Graham also mentioned fellow freshmen Chad Adams, Armand Perry and redshirt freshman Ronald Lewis as players who could see some extended playing time this week against Washington State. One player who has had a lot of success recently with two interceptions in his last two games is senior safety Damarious Randall, he will have to take a leading role in a secondary which will be tested often Saturday.
"They're gonna pass the ball 95 percent of the game, like every down, 4th and 1 they're gonna pass the ball I've never seen a team like that," Randall said. "It could be 1st and goal from the inch yard line and they're probably going to pass the ball. That's just their style of game."
- Graham said Laiu Moeakiola and Jordan Simone are "ready to play."
- Graham said he's more unsure about Jaelen Strong's availability and the team is still in wait and see mode on him. He practiced Thursday in a gold "limited contact" jersey after practicing in a green "no-contact" jersey on Tuesday.