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ASU Football Opponent Primer: Washington State Cougars

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Week Eight

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Washington State at Utah Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ASU’s 2021 Schedule

Sep. 2: vs. Southern Utah (Thu.)

Sep. 11: vs. UNLV

Sep. 18: @ BYU

Sep. 25: vs. Colorado

Oct. 2: @ UCLA

Oct. 8: vs. Stanford (Fri.)

Oct. 16: @ Utah

Oct. 30: vs. Washington State

Nov. 6: vs. USC

Nov. 13: @ Washington

Nov. 20: @ Oregon State

Nov. 27: vs. Arizona

Washington State’s 2020 Season

Nick Rolovich’s first year as Washington State’s head coach was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. Before the season even began, Rolovich stirred controversy by voicing his displeasure with #WeAreUnited, a group of PAC-12 athletes advocating for stricter COVID-19 testing, racial equality and NIL rights among other things. Though he later walked back his comments, Rolovich’s bad first impression set the tone for the catastrophic season that followed.

Washington State’s season-opening win against Oregon State proved to be little more than a mirage, as the Cougars lost their final three games to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 North. Nonetheless, certain young skill players give reason for the Cougars to be hopeful about their prospects in 2021.

Key Returners

Quarterback Jayden de Laura was one of Washington State’s lone bright spots in 2020. He showed promise as a true freshman, starting all four of the Cougars’ games and throwing for a modest 886 yards and five touchdowns. De Laura’s performance didn’t exactly conjure images of Gardner Minshew and Luke Falk, but he looked like a capable starter and should be a safe bet to take a step forward this season.

Strong safety Ayden Hector also made an impact for Washington State last season as a true freshman, and has all but secured his spot in the Cougars’ defensive backfield for 2021. A long shot to earn a starting role out of camp, Hector established himself as one of Washington State’s best defensive players, picking off one pass and forcing two fumbles in three games. His body of work as a freshman was not extensive by any means, but like de Laura, he should be able to assert himself more this season.

As promising as some of their freshmen looked in 2020, the Cougars’ fate this coming season may rest on the shoulders of their backfield tandem. Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh provided a powerful one-two punch for Washington State last season. The two veteran backs combined for 418 rushing yards and four scores.

Biggest Losses

The Cougars will return the bulk of their 2020 starters on offense and defense, but their special teams situation for the upcoming season appears to be a precarious one. Prized kicker Blake Mazza left Pullman for greener pastures at SMU, and star punter Oscar Draguicevich III bolted for the NFL, leaving Washington State with an unproven group of specialists. Freshman Nick Haberer seems like an obvious candidate to inherit the punting job, but at the moment there is no clear successor to Mazza.

Why ASU Might Win

Washington State was a doormat in 2020, and if their young players are unable to make serious strides, the same will likely be true in 2021. Should Jayden de Laura fail to develop or, worse yet, lose his starting job to Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano, ASU’s defense can expect to have a field day when the Cougars come to Tempe.

Why Washington State Might Win

Although their passing game and defense should be at least marginally better than last year, the Cougars’ rushing attack provides them with the best chance to win games this coming fall. Strong performances from Borghi and McIntosh, coupled with an adequate showing on defense, might be sufficient for Washington State to pull off an upset against the Sun Devils.