Arizona State Sun Devils (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) @ Washington State Cougars (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. MT
TV: Fox Sports 1 (Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman)
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM | Sirus 93 (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Forecast: Saturday calls for a high of 53 degrees in Pullman with a 10 percent chance of rain and winds around 15 MPH.
What ASU is Wearing: The Sun Devils are wearing their "traditional" road uniforms. Gold helmets, white jerseys and gold pants.
Series History: The Sun Devils hold a 26-13-2 all-time record against Washington State. ASU is 10-8 all-time in Pullman and have won three in a row over WSU.
Washington State in 2015: The season could not have started off worse for the Cougars as they fell to FCS Portland State 24-17 at home in Week 1. That dropped Mike Leach's record to 3-10 in his last 13 games and put some pressure on the fourth-year coach.
Washington State rebounded with nonconference victories over Rutgers (37-34) and Wyoming (31-14) to take a 2-1 record into Pac-12 play. The Cougars dropped their first conference game of the year to then No. 24 Cal, 34-28. Following that loss, Washington State rolled off three straight Pac-12 wins including victories over Oregon and Arizona on the road.
The Cougars took a 5-2 record into last week's contest with No. 8 Stanford. The Cougars were in position for a game-winning field goal, however the 43-yard kick went wide right as time expired and WSU fell to 5-3.
ASU on Offense: Whatever issues plagued the Arizona State offense during the first seven games of the season -- whether it was injuries or poor execution -- they disappeared against Oregon. ASU racked up 742 yards of offense (third most in school history) and lit up the scoreboard for 55 points in a loss to the Ducks.
Finally, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage were both excelling on the field in the same game. The sophomore duo combined for 262 yards on 31 carries against the Ducks, with Ballage averaging over 10 yards per carry.
"I thought we played very physical, physically dominated the line of scrimmage and dominated the run game, and really proud of the effort," Todd Graham said. "That was our best performance of the year, and you know, obviously putting it all together is a big thing."
Both Graham and quarterback Mike Bercovici said before the Oregon game they would like to see the offense run at a faster pace. Against the Ducks, they ran over 100 plays. Bercovici -- despite the late interception -- completed 38 passes for 398 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 58 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort.
"I think with anything, whether it be running, throwing, situational football, whether it can be spiking the ball on a screen, everything that you do later in the season, you just kind of become more comfortable with it," Bercovici said. "But obviously Coach does a great job of sending the message from spring ball in 2012 that the quarterback has to use his legs in order for this offense to succeed at the highest level, and you know, it really did -- obviously you can just see how the defense has to account for you in the run game."
The Cougars have been surprisingly improved on the defensive side of the ball under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch. The Cougars have the No. 1 passing defense in the Pac-12, however they rank 11th in the league against the run and surrender 30.9 points per game (9th).
"I think that they're a team that plays extremely hard," Bercovici said about Washington State. "Their offense did some pretty good things (against Stanford). So did their defense, special teams. They're very opportunistic. They create turnovers, and unfortunately it was raining but they still got after it. Every time we play up there, the weather could be whatever it is. But they're a good team, and we're excited to go against them."
Go With What Works: I may be in the minority that still believes in Mike Norvell as a play caller. However, it is hard to defend the decision to throw the football twice at the goal line in triple overtime. Sometimes play callers tend to try to out-think their opponents.
Washington State cannot stop the run, they allowed both Christian McCaffery and Kevin Hogan to rush for over 100 yards last week. Oregon running back Royce Freeman rushed for 246 yards against Washington State earlier in the season. There should be no reason why Ballage and Richard should not see work early and often on Saturday.
Get Foster Involved: The senior saw the most touches of the season in last Thursday's game against Oregon. Foster carried the ball six times for 29 yards and caught six passes for 87 yards. It seems ASU has transitioned Foster back to his 2014 role, with much of his action coming in the slot. This means more touches in space and more mismatches in coverage.
ASU on Defense: For all the good that happened to ASU when they had the ball, the defense played their worst game of the season and perhaps their worst game of the Todd Graham era. The Sun Devils surrendered 61 points to Oregon, and committed numerous mental errors along the way. The ASU defense surrendered rushing touchdowns of 64 and 62 yards respectively as well as a defensive breakdown on Oregon's final play of regulation. ASU also surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown.
The Sun Devils have surrendered eight plays of over 60 yards this season, that is the most of any team in the nation (thank you to Doug Haller for that stat). ASU has not been good tackling in space this season, and when you think about how much this team blitzes, that is not a skill you can be bad at.
Graham told reporters after the Oregon loss he thinks the team should have blitzed more, so I expect him to throw everything he has at sophomore Luke Falk. The Washington State quarterback is averaging over 400 yards a game and has tossed at least 300 yards in seven straight contests.
Washington State is a little more balanced this season than in previous ones, they average 90.8 yards per game on the ground which is still last in the league and 125th nationally, but it is more than they averaged last season.
Besides Falk, the other two players to keep an eye on when the Cougars have the ball are receivers Gabe Marks and Dom Williams. Marks leads the country with 63 receptions and leads the Pac-12 with 11 touchdown receptions. Williams has caught 48 passes for 656 yards. Four Cougars average over 10 yards per catch (min. 24 catches) and five players have caught multiple touchdowns.
Limit Big Plays: It has been the key all season but it is especially important against a vertical passing team like Washington State. The Cougars will line up with four or five receivers most of the game, causing ASU into a lot of one-on-one matchups on the outside. Limiting chunk gains will be important on Saturday.
Contain Screen Passes: The Cougars use screen passes to the wide receivers as a substitute for the running game. The goal is to pick up five to seven yards and set the offense up with either a second-and-short or third-and-short. If ASU can hold these passes minimal gains, it will alter Washington State's gameplan.
This game scares a lot of ASU fans because Washington State does well what the Sun Devils don't. The Cougars will force ASU to tackle them in space and ASU has to prove they can do that. Unlike in most seasons, Washington State has the better record and more to play for (Washington State needs a lot of help but can still win the North).
Last time Falk played ASU, he threw four interceptions. He has only thrown six this season and has already topped 500 yards through the air twice in 2015. The Cougars are a little more balanced than in previous years and the defense is much improved from the 2014 unit.
That being said, the Sun Devils have had two extra days to prepare and should come out with some extra motivation because of some allegations and officiating blunders from the Oregon game. It should be a dry day in Pullman, with a shootout expected.
Prediction: ASU 45, Washington State 38