Washington State once again takes on an Arizona school after starting the year with a weirdly achieved 4-2 record. Last year, the Cougs bested the Wildcats in Tuscon in a game that wasn’t really as close as the 45-42 final score, then went on to win four of their remaining six games.
History is looking to repeat itself in Tempe this weekend.
ASU wasn’t expected to do much of anything this year. They lost offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to Memphis and were breaking in a new quarterback, either Brady White or Manny Wilkins. After rattling off a quick four wins to start the season — including a wild 68-55 shootout with Texas Tech -- people started to wonder if the Sun Devils are for real this year.
History also does not like Cougs being in Tempe. Wazzu hasn’t won there since 2004, dropping the last six in a row, and only won at Arizona State once between 1960 and 1980.
Vegas has the Cougs favored by 7.5 with an Over/Under of 63. All of the guys on Game Day picked Wazzu, with Desmond Howard and Uncle Verne Lundquist picking them “BIG”. Bill C’s laptop has calculated WSU has a 63% win probability.
Confidence is a new feeling, this is weird.
What has me confident in the Cougs
ASU has a terribad secondary: Special adjective for a special defensive unit. The Sun Devils allow; 26 completions on 43 pass attempts per game (128th and 127th), 14 passing first downs per game (127th), 2.7 passing TDs per game (124th) and a whopping 384 passing yards per game (128th) with 8.9 yards per pass attempt (124th).
Oh, we’re not done... they’ve given up the most passing plays of over 10 yards in the nation (96), with the next closest PAC-12 team being Oregon (76). 14 of those 96 plays have gone over 40 yards. That spits out an IsoPPP (explosiveness) ranking of 127th. They also rank 121st in their percentage of passes defensed to incompletions.
Busted QB and busted run game: Brady White was sidelined for the season with a foot injury, Manny Wilkins has since came into his own and was playing really well for the Sun Devils before suffering an ankle injury that he’s been trying to play through. The ASU offense has since sort of flatlined.
They haven’t put up over 23 points or rushed for more than 80 yards in the last three games, averaging just around two yards per carry. Wazzu’s rush defense is surprisingly salty, allowing the sixth fewest running plays over ten yards, the fewest yards per game in the PAC-12 (104.5) and stuffing just over 30 percent of all opponent rush attempts at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Cougs could be seeing a dinged-up QB rely on a run game that isn’t there.
Doug Haller, great reporter for azcentral sports, joins us again to share his insights.
What are you most confident in about the Arizona State Sun Devils?
“Where the game is being played. Dating to last season, Arizona State has won six in a row at Sun Devil Stadium. Overall, the Sun Devils are 25-6 at home in five seasons under Todd Graham. For some reason, they can play awful on the road one week, then turn around and play great the next in Tempe. It's baffling.”
What has me concerned about the Arizona State Sun Devils
Tempe: WSU does not play well in Tempe, Arizona State does. The game is slotted for PAC-12 After Dark so the heat shouldn’t be much of an issue, but there’s just something about Tempe that keeps Wazzu from being its best.
Old hat: ASU has already beaten two Air Raid teams — Texas Tech and Cal — and faced another spread passing offense in Colorado that decided to run that dang ball...to the tune of 315 yards on the ground. Despite ASU’s secondary being pretty statistically terrible, they could at least be familiar with most of what WSU tries to do, which isn’t all that tricky to begin with.
Karma: Leach (who was prompted) joked about Todd Graham stealing signs again, like he did last year, only this time everyone decided to take him ultra-seriously, for whatever reason. That joke was worth $10,000 according to Larry Scott and the conference big wigs, who apparently detect sarcasm as well as an internet commenter. Graham was also visibly upset having to defend himself in a press conference.
This was dumb and shouldn’t be a thing heading into this game.
It was featured on Game Day.
So, Mr. Haller...
What about Wazzu should concern ASU?
“ASU has beaten two Air Raid teams this season (Texas Tech and California), but the Cougars come to town at a bad time for the Sun Devils. One: ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins still has not fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered Oct. 1 at USC. He can't make plays with his legs like he did earlier this season, which makes ASU's office one-dimensional. Against Texas Tech and Cal, ASU could score enough to win a shootout. On Saturday, I'm not sure that's the case.”
How I see the game playing out
Boat. Race. When healthy, ASU’s offense was looking really potent this year, but since taking on the wear and tear of the season, they’ve pumpkin’d at midnight a little bit. WSU, in the comfortable (relative to Pullman) night desert air should be able to kick-start the passing game like we haven’t seen in a few games.
Luke Falk will put up his best stat line of the season. Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin will both go over 100 yards receiving. This game will be filled with long passing plays.
Final score: WSU 68 - 34 ASU
“ASU is coming off one of its worst games in five years under Graham. In fact, it might have been its worse. They gained only 199 yards. The tackling was terrible. They'll be much better against Washington State, maybe hanging around for three quarters. But eventually, I think Washington State will pull away.”
Huge thanks to Doug for lending us his time again this year. You can follow him on twitter here, which I highly recommend.