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ASU Football: Washington State Players to Watch

The second-best pass offense in the Pac-12 and a top-notch defense marches into Sun Devil Stadium this Saturday.

Washington State v Stanford
#4 quarterback Luke Falk of the Washington State Cougars searches the field for an open receiver
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Tied for first place in the Pac-12 North, the red hot Washington State Cougars (4-2, 3-0) make the trip into the desert. They bring a high-powered offense and a dominant defense that was led the Cougars to four straight wins.

The Cougars outperform the Sun Devils in several statistical fields, including points scored per game (41), points allowed per game (25.3), total yards per game (501.5), and yards allowed per game (382.7).

Arizona State has beaten Air-Raid offenses twice this season (California and Texas Tech), but has yet to play a defense as aggressive as Washington State’s. The Cougars’ rush defense currently ranks first in the Pac-12.

Finishing 9-4 last season, Washington State was expected to put up great numbers this year, but after losing its home opener to FCS opponent Eastern Washington, the Cougars became neglected.

Since then game, they’ve gone 4-1, notching a perfect 3-0 record in conference play.

The turnaround has not only been led by the Cougars’ dynamic offense, but the defense has been effective as well.

The Cougars’ defense allowed an average of just 18.5 points and forced seven turnovers in its last two games against UCLA and Stanford.

Washington State’s total offense ranks third and its passing offense is second in the Pac-12.

Players to Watch

QB Luke Falk (6-foot-4, 216 pounds)

The redshirt-junior quarterback spent his entire high school and beginning of college career overlooked; he left high school with no offers other than the Ivy league’s Cornell. Rather than take the easy way out, Falk decided to walk on to Washington State and redshirted. He took the starting job after the departure of Connor Halliday, and in his second year as the starter, Falk has proved to be one of the best in the nation. In his sophomore season, his 4,561 passing yards was the fifth-most in the country. With 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions this season, Falk is incredibly efficient on the field.

Last season, Falk torched the Sun Devils in a 38-24 win. He threw for 497 yards and five touchdowns. After trailing 21-17 at the end of the third quarter, Falk and the Cougars turned on the jets, as he threw three touchdowns in the last quarter to accomplish Washington State’s 18-point win over ASU.

WR Gabe Marks (6-foot, 190 pounds)

It’s tough to stand out in a tandem of elite wide receivers, but Marks, a senior, has clearly made his presence known. He led the Cougars in touchdowns and receiving yards last season, and leads the team in touchdowns again this year with six. The reason for his success is his flat-out speed and crafty hands. Running a 4.43 40-yard dash and proving to be the best of the No. 1 receiving core in the Pac-12, he’s a definite threat to the Sun Devils.

DE Hercules Mata’afa (6-foot-2, 255 pounds)

If his name isn’t intimidating enough, what he can do on the field should scare you. Only a sophomore, Mata’afa has emerged as one of the best Cougars on defense. His three sacks leads the team, and of his 24 tackles, 9.5 of them have been for loss. The Hawaiian is a key piece of a Washington State rush defense that ranks the best in the Pac-12.

RB Jamal Morrow (5-foot-9, 201 pounds)

The Cougars have one of the most pass-friendly offenses in the nation, but once their opponent gets comfortable defending the pass, Washington State delivers the run. The junior averages 6.2 yards per carry, leads the team with 316 rushing yards and has four touchdowns. Washington State scored all three of its touchdowns last week on the ground, and its three running backs with over 220 rush yards should be equipped to score near the goal line against the Sun Devils.