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ASU Football: Key coaching points prior to facing Washington State

Three main issues surround the Sun Devils going into Saturday’s game against Washington State.

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-West Virginia vs Arizona State
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham strategizes with offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils enter this weekend’s matchup against the Washington State Cougars with plenty of concerns.

Three points in particular, however, stand out above the rest. Following Wednesday’s practice, members of the Sun Devils’ coaching staff addressed some of the areas in which ASU can improve moving forward, and how it can render previous mistakes.

Re-establishing the run game

During their 4-0 start, the Sun Devils averaged 236.5 rushing yards per game. In their last three games, ASU has managed 68.3 rushing yards per game amidst posting a 1-2 record.

With redshirt-sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins not fully healthy, Arizona State has had trouble running the ball.

“We were successful early on because we were able to run the ball,” said offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. “And you look back the way we ran it, Manny made a lot of those plays. When he made those plays it allowed us to run the ball with our running backs better and do some different things.”

ASU’s recent struggles culminated with a season-low total of 50 yards last game against Colorado.

“We need to run the football. We need to do that and be successful and play with some tempo,” Lindsey said.

The junior duo of running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have caused destruction to opposing defenses in the past. Now, they look to renew their capabilities against Washington State, which owns the best rush defense in the Pac-12.

The Cougars have allowed the fewest yards per run (3.7) and fewest per game (104.5) in the conference this season.

Luke Falk: How to stop him?

The Sun Devils secondary hasn’t performed well this year, allowing an NCAA-worst 384.4 passing yards per game. Next up: A bout with Luke Falk and Washington State, who boast a pass offense which ranks second in passing yards per game (361.3).

“It’s Falk’s third year in the system, so you see a more comfortable guy who knows where to go with the ball,” said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson of the Cougars’ starter.

The junior quarterback threw for 497 passing yards and five touchdowns against the Sun Devils last season. He was one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks last season throwing for 4,561 yards ranking as the fifth-most passing yards in the country.

“Don’t just line up in the coverage, try to keep him off balance by making him second guess,” Patterson says in regards to stopping Falk. “Make him hold the ball a little longer.”

Falk and the Washington State offense play a very fast, high-tempo offense. Patterson plans to slow down the Cougar’s rhythm by lining up in different formations and complicating different plays.

“Our whole game plan is trying to put doubt in his mind what he is trying to see from a coverage concept,” he said.

Manny Wilkins not 100-percent healthy, but still Graham’s best option

Ever since Wilkins went down with a high-ankle sprain in Week 5 against USC, he has not been the same, and neither has the Sun Devils’ offense.

“Manny gave us the best chance to win and he continues to give us the best chance for us to win,” Lindsey said. “That’s really what it comes down to,”

Wilkins gave ASU its “best chance” to beat Colorado, but only put up 149 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception. His mobility was rendered useless as he rushed for minus-35 yards and was sacked five times.

Redshirt-freshman quarterbacks Brady White (foot) and Bryce Perkins (neck) are both ruled out for the season with injuries, leaving Wilkins and true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole as Graham’s only options.

Sterling-Cole, a four-star rated the eighth-best quarterback in the class of 2016, has talent, but lacks experience and was thrown into fire a little early. His first play and only play as a Sun Devil ended in an interception in the end zone against UCLA.

“I think Dillon is progressing for sure,” Lindsey said. However, he noted the steep learning curve which Sterling-Cole would face being thrust into action so soon. “You are asking a guy that was really our No. 3 guy, No. 4 guy in camp, to all of a sudden catch on in Pac-12 play.”

Wilkins should start on Saturday against Washington State with Sterling-Cole behind him as his only back up.