Deep breath, back to square one, and “action!”
What seemed to be a fate-shifting loss against Utah is far behind in the rear-view mirror. Utah, who still holds the top spot in the Pac-12 South with the head-to-head tiebreaker over ASU, dropped a shootout to Oregon State last week.
Throw in some other convenient losses and the Sun Devils were the only Pac-12 South team to escape a loss last week, and they were on a bye.
At a Crossroads
Washington State (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12) will face its first road test on Saturday under interim head coach Jake Dickert. Former head coach Nick Rolovich was fired, along with four assistant coaches, two weeks ago following his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Cougars went 1-3 in their first four games, including a non-conference loss to Utah State. In the three following weeks, Wazzu played season-wrecker, winning three in a row against Cal, Oregon, and Stanford. In Dickert’s first game as head coach, they were a two-point conversion success away from potentially beating BYU in overtime, and making it four in a row.
Based on those conference-wins, your head starts to play the “transitive property of wins” game. Don’t let it. It is highly unlikely that this Washington State team could beat Oregon. Or is it? I guess that’s just the Pac-12.
Quarterback Jayden de Laura is probably the most overshadowed quarterback in the conference. Jayden Daniels and Kedon Slovis are the upper-echelon, with Tanner McKee on the way. Cameron Rising and Chance Nolan are the young slingers of tomorrow for the Pac-12, and there is no reason to leave de Laura out of that tier.
The sophomore from Hawai’i, by way of St. Louis, has a Rose Bowl Player of the Week award to his name this season on a 64% completion rate and 15 touchdowns to six interceptions.
While de Laura manufactured multiple good drives against BYU, it was a stellar rushing performance that put the Wazzu points on the board in this year’s Cougar-Cougar game. Max Borghi was accountable for all three Wazzu touchdowns on Saturday, and continues to improve the program’s bottom-of-the-pack run game week by week.
While he only has 10 receptions on the year—for 90 yards—Borghi is a premier pass-catcher, and was on the preseason watchlist for the Doak Walker Award, and the Biletnikoff Award for best college receiver. He was the only athlete in the nation to be on both lists.
Overall, the offense looks like they took a step-back after Rolovich’s firing. The Sun Devil run defense is ranked fourth in the conference. So far, the three best dual-threat quarterbacks ASU has seen in 2021 are Jaren Hall (BYU), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA), and Cameron Rising (Utah). Those three averaged 64.3 yards rushing against ASU. Where ASU excels in rush defense between the tackles, it loses ground in the ability to contain a mobile-quarterback.
De Laura is the third-highest rusher on this Washington State team.
Bye, Bye, First Half
The bye week could not have come at a better time for ASU. Utah’s loss against Oregon State last week certainly boosts morale. Players had extra time to heal and recover from any minor injuries. Johnny Wilson is likely to return from injury for his first game since the September victory over Colorado. Combine that with an extra week for offensive coordinator Zak Hill to game plan for one specific team, and the Sun Devils are primed for a big showing on offense.
Wazzu will likely have to match the Sun Devil scoring stride-for-stride to make it a game in Tempe.
According to Herm Edwards, Chase Lucas is likely to return after missing the Utah game. Evan Fields will be a game-time decision. What seemed to be an already-established defense on the rise got punched in the mouth against Utah. Defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce’s unit was non-existent in the second half last game, allowing four touchdowns on four series, and coughing up a 14-point lead.
On a less-important—but far more interesting—note, you might get a little deja vu if you can make it out to Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The last time these programs faced off, ASU won a 38-34 thriller in Tempe on a hot-and-sunny October Saturday afternoon game.