The Arizona State Sun Devils travel to Pullman, Washington, Saturday to face the Washington State Cougars and they might have a little bit of animosity in tow. Earlier in the week Cougars' head coach Mike Leach suggested the league investigate the Sun Devils for some sign-stealing allegations, but the league said without a formal complaint there will be no investigation.
Now the Sun Devils look to ignite that fire to overcome a difficult team on the road. The Cougars are coming off a heartbreaking lost at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal after a missed field goal (the only miss of six on the night) in the dwindling seconds of the game.
However, the Cougars do carry wins over Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona, in which they scored 45, 52 and 45 points, respectively. ASU now has to find a way to curb this high-scoring offense in order to get a much-needed win and attempt to build momentum into their final three games.
Here are five keys to this week's contest:
1. Strength in the Secondary
When it comes to a quarterback like Luke Falk and his 407.4 passing yards per game, it's important to hinder the vertical speed of a team that keeps its momentum going mainly through the air on the deep ball. The ASU secondary was lackluster last week against Oregon, aside from Kareem Orr's acrobatic interception, and will need to show some strong coverage Saturday if they hope to curtail the Cougars' seven-game streak of 300 plus passing yards.
2. Making Tackles
ASU relies a lot on gang-tackling, but it doesn't work so well when the gang doesn't tackle and then the ball-carrier scurries up an open lane for a lot of extra yardage. ASU needs to pressure this week without leaving a man open in coverage as was seen last week against Oregon, especially in overtime Thursday when ASU could not get enough pressure into the backfield to bring the quarterback down before he was able to execute a beautiful pass into the end zone.
3. Attack Them on the Ground
The Cougars have the next to last rushing defense in the Pac-12, relinquishing 206.6 yards per game to its opponents. This is where ASU could hurt WSU if the Sun Devils execute the same efficient two-back set seen in last week's matchup where Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and D.J. Foster combined for 344 rushing yards.
4. Contain Gabe Marks
The Sun Devil defense will need to keep tabs on the Pac-12's leading receiver Gabe Marks. Marks is tied for eighth in the nation with 63 receptions and ranks first in the Pac-12 with 11 touchdowns on the season. If the ASU offense hopes to beat them on the ground, the ASU defense will need to squander the vertical attack and that all starts with denying Marks in the air.
5. No turnovers
The Cougars only have seven interceptions this season and if ASU hopes to have its best shot at winning this game, they will need to keep that number at seven. In doing so, the Sun Devils need to keep an eye on safety Shalom Luani, who has three of them.
Bercovici ended the double-overtime battle against the Ducks with an interception in the end zone last week and if the Sun Devils have any hope in winning this road contest, they will need to be clean and crisp in their counterattack in the air.