FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706) — Tempe, Arizona. Television: None. Home Record: WSU 1-3, ASU 2-1. Away Record: WSU 0-4, ASU 1-3. Neutral Record: WSU 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: WSU 0-5, ASU 1-3. Series Record: ASU leads, 22-12-2.
GAME NOTES: For the first time in more than a month, Arizona State will play at home, as the Sun Devils are set to take on the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-10 tussle for Homecoming weekend.
ASU is returning to Sun Devil Stadium for the first time since September 25th, a span of 34 days. The Sun Devils have lost four of their last five games, the most recent of which was a lopsided 50-17 setback at California last weekend. Their win-loss record is a bit deceiving however, as the previous three losses were narrow defeats against No. 9 Wisconsin (20-19), top-ranked Oregon (42-31) and at Oregon State (31-28).
Meanwhile, Washington State is searching for its first road win of the year (0-4). The Cougars have also lost 14 straightPac-10 games after last weekend’s 38-28 setback at 13th-ranked Stanford. It marked their third straight game against a ranked opponent, as WSU’s previous two losses came against No. 15 Arizona and top-ranked Oregon.
ASU has won six straight against the Cougars and three in a row at home. The Sun Devils lead the all-time series, 22-12-2.
Washington State’s running game serves mostly to try and keep opposing defenses honest. Ranking 116th in the nation with an average of just 81 yards per game on the ground, the Cougars seldom dial up the run when they need a big play. That was once again the case against Stanford, as WSU notched a combined 90 rushing yards on 23 carries as a team. However, the passing game produced a much more desirable result. Playing on the road against a ranked opponent, Jeff Tuel completed 21-of-28 passes for 298 yards and four TDs, three of which came during a furious fourth-quarter rally that turned a potential laugher into a tight battle. Jared Karstetter finished with nine catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns for WSU, while Marquess Wilson hauled in six passes for 150 yards and a score. On the season, the Cougars rank fifth in the Pac-10 in passing offense as Tuel is throwing for 254 yards per game.
Of the 120 schools comprising the Football Bowl Subdivision, none is worse defensively than the Cougars, who rank dead-last in total defense (487 ypg) and 117th in scoring defense (39.9 ppg). Opponents have gashed WSU with equal success on the ground (237.6 ypg allowed) and through the air (249.4 ypg), and last week against Stanford was no different. The Cardinal led 31-7 after three quarters as they kept the chains moving by converting 7-of-15 third downs and 3-of-3 fourth downs. On the ground, Stanford managed 249 yards (5.3 ypc) and two TDs, while quarterback Andrew Luck picked apart the Cougars’ defense by completing 20-of-28 passes for 190 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. Put simply, the Cougars do not have the personnel up front to match up with most of the teams they face. To atone for the matchup problems, they need to create some confusion in their alignments and catch teams off guard with blitzes to try and create some turnovers.
The biggest news coming out of ASU’s blowout loss to Cal was that the team played the second half without starting quarterback Steven Threet, who was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Threet’s status is doubtful for Saturday’s game, though coach Dennis Erickson remained hopeful during his weekly press conference that his quarterback would be able to practice at some point leading up to the game. If Threet can’t pass all of the concussion tests and suit up, it would no doubt be a big blow for the Sun Devils’ passing offense, which ranks second in the Pac-10 and 21st nationally (281.6 ypg). Threet’s one Achilles’ heal has been turnovers, considering he had thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11) through seven games. Third-stringer Samson Szakacsy came on in relief against Cal and the offense just wasn’t the same, as he completed only 8-of-17 passes for 52 yards and an interception. In fact, the team’s only two touchdowns for the game came from defense and special teams. Coach Erickson said backup QB Brock Osweiler (back) didn’t play against Cal because he hadn’t practiced in a few weeks, and added that he hasn’t had enough practice reps to be considered for the starting position on Saturday.
After last week’s poor showing, the ASU defense enters this tilt ranked 48th nationally in total defense (351.4 ypg) and 68th in scoring defense (26.6 ppg). The defense did manage to hold the Golden Bears to a respectable 3.0 yards per carry as a team, though they did score three rushing touchdowns. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley had been inconsistent throughout the season, but against ASU he completed 19-of-28 passes for 240 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Coach Erickson said he is surprised that his defense is not playing up to its capabilities, and that the problems stem from giving up too many big plays and not tackling. The implication during his press conference was that there could be some shuffling on the depth chart, as he talked a few times about accountability. This week, the Sun Devils face off against an offensive unit that was able to move the ball through the air against a solid Stanford defense. For ASU, one silver lining from last week’s performance was the special teams, as the Sun Devils managed to block an extra point attempt and also a punt that resulted in an ASU touchdown. However, they also gave up a touchdown on a blocked punt.
The Sun Devils are in a transition period with only 13 seniors on their roster, the fewest in the Pac-10. In fact, safety Max Tabach was the only senior to start at Cal. But this weekend, they’ll go up against a Washington State squad that has lost 16 straight games against FBS opponents.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 38, Washington State 14
Saturday, October 30th, 7:00 p.m. (et)