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ASU Football: Washington State players to watch

The two teams look a lot different than they did when Wazzu handled the Devils in Tempe last fall

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Temperatures are not expected to reach any point higher than 40-degrees Fahrenheit in Pullman, Washington on Saturday afternoon. Washington State football (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) thwarts the elements with heavy firepower offensively, and an up-tempo style of play that inflates all corners of the stat sheet.

The Cougars have done a fine job navigating the transfer portal in recent years. Here are three examples of those players who are leading the Cougars in 2022.

Watch For: Daiyan Henley, LB

There might not be a better all-around athlete on the field Saturday in Pullman than Daiyan Henley. The Nevada-transfer is in his first year as a Cougar (also had an offer from USC while in the portal), and spent his first two years of college ball playing receiver (232 yards, 3 touchdowns).

Last year, he was elected to the All-Mountain-West Second-Team after leading the Wolfpack in interceptions (four), tackles (103) and defensive touchdowns (two). The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker can be used anywhere on the field, as he also has experience playing safety.

Henley had no troubles transitioning into Pac-12 play. Through nine games, he is the Cougars’s sack leader (four), has the most tackles on the team (85) and one interception. Wazzu likes to mix-and-match their looks with the front-seven, which will have Henley both on the line-of-scrimmage, and playing off-ball.

“They do a good job of having a couple of exotic looks, something that you don’t really see sometimes from certain defenses,” ASU quarterback Trenton Bourguet said. “They have a good pass rush. (Their) linebackers do a good job of flying around the field. And the backs in the secondary do a good job of knocking it down and getting some key interceptions,”

Watch For: Cameron Ward, QB

Wazzu made headlines this offseason for landing one of the most explosive players in the transfer portal in quarterback Cameron Ward. In two seasons at FCS Incarnate Word, Ward threw for 71 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. That is an interception for every 5.07 touchdowns-thrown.

We have seen the flashes from Ward this year, and some of his highlights might give ASU fans the chills, as they emulate the flashiness and improvisation of conference notables Caleb Williams from USC and Dorian Thompson-Robinson from UCLA.

The Cougars still operate with the air-raid offense under head coach Jake Dickert, and Ward’s stats have seen the benefits: 2,360 yards passing on a 64.1% completion-rate. 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Watch for: Nakia Watson, Running Back

If you take a look at Washington State’s roster, the transfers are having the greatest impact, so we will stick to the theme. Nakia Watson transferred to Wazzu from Wisconsin last year, and is the team’s leading rusher after taking a back seat to Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh in 2021.

Watson, a former four-star recruit, is averaging 6.1 yards per-carry and has three rushing touchdowns on the year. Through the air, Watson has added another 177 yards and two scores.

Recall back to last year’s matchup between ASU and Washington State in Tempe when Borghi, McIntosh, and Watson combined for 155 yards rushing...

...while running the air raid.

ASU has played a few games this year where the run defense essentially didn’t come off the bus (Eastern Michigan, UCLA). Defending the air-raid will not be enough in Pullman on Saturday.