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ASU Football: Storylines to watch against Washington State

Beware the cold

Zac BonDurant

No matter how calm and collected they may seem during the week, Arizona State football (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) is undoubtedly still thinking about a bowl game. In theory, they control their own destiny: beat Washington State (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12), Oregon State, and Arizona, and they are in.

Get ready, Jimmy Kimmel.

For those following this program closely all year, a bowl appearance would be the cap on a run considered nothing short of miraculous. It could start Saturday against Wazzu, but there is no doubt the Sun Devils have a few holes to patch following last week’s 50-36 loss at home to No. 12 UCLA.

If the defense improves, what takes a step back? Can ASU play complementary ball?

The Sun Devils gave up 190-plus yards against Oklahoma State, Eastern Michigan and Utah back-to-back-to-back. Against USC, the run defense looked like a major improvement, but then the Trojans gashed ASU for 348 yards in the air.

They didn’t allow a touchdown against Stanford all game. ASU also didn’t score at all in the second half, and they died a death by field goals. The buzz around town surrounded Trenton Bourguet and the new-look offense under interim coach Shaun Aguano’s play-calling. The defense subsequently didn’t show up against UCLA, allowing over 400 yards rushing.

“We can’t go in there and beat people up about it,” defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said. “I mean, that does (us) no good. So, my thought is I’ll be as positive as I can this week like I normally am, and just talk about the things that we need to do moving forward. We can’t keep looking in the rearview mirror. It wasn’t a good game, you know? And I know some of you guys think you have a lot more to say when it’s a bad game. I probably should have a lot more to say, but I don’t want to live in the past. I want to move forward, get that (UCLA) game behind me and move on, you know?”

When a phase improves, another one deteriorates. The good news? Wazzu is the second-worst offense in the conference in yards per-game (374), only ahead of Colorado. ASU (28.1) is also ahead of the Cougars (26.8) in points per-game.

How Bourguet reads aggressive and disguised fronts

Aguano and center Ben Scott both applauded Bourguet’s ability to pull the trigger (or not) on run-pass-option plays, a skill that will be important against the Cougars. All three mentioned Wazzu’s tendencies to throw unique and aggressive pre-snap looks on defense, so Bourguet’s knack for reading defenses pre-play could will be tested on Saturday.

“They do a really good job defensively in the goal-line situations and red zone, you know,” Bourguet said. “They really tighten down their defense and the windows get smaller. So as a quarterback, you got to anticipate and understand what kind of tendencies they run: man, zone, pressure, stuff like that. So I think we have a good game plan going in and we just got to make sure to be on top of it.”

The Cougars allow the least points per-game in the conference (20). Where the offense has lacked consistency, the defense suffocates opponents week-in and week-out.

If Washington State is going to mess around at the line of scrimmage, look for Bourguet to take a couple of shot-throws, wind permitting. Bourguet loves man-coverage, and the “exotic looks” tend to leave defensive backs on islands.

Cold weather game

Saturday will be the coldest game of the year, with temperatures hovering in the mid-30s all afternoon. Trenton Bourguet, and a lot of the offensive skill-players, played their whole careers in warm-weather states.

“It’s not snowing, it’s not raining, so it’s just going to be a little frigid,” Aguano said. “I’m going to be probably bundled up out there, but, you know, (I will) not bring it up to them. We’re just going to go out and take care of business. So, however you want to dress and feel comfortable, but I won’t bring it up at all during the week.”

X Valladay, arguably the unit’s most explosive and reliable producer, found loads of success playing in the Mountain-West at Wyoming (42-degree average in November). Valladay logged 100-plus yards rushing in five of nine games on the year, and rattled off 92 and two touchdowns last week against No. 12 UCLA. He also has five multi-score games.

The run plays in the cold. We will see how the big guys hold up in the trenches. It is unlikely captain LaDarius Henderson will return. Henderson has missed the last three games with a finger injury.