The last time the Cougars entered the Tempe version of the desert, Luke Falk was making his second start and it was fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot through the first two quarters. Washington State jumped out to a 21-7 lead and ended up almost doubling ASU in total yards and first downs, but 5 turnovers did them in, resulting in a 52-31 loss. Falk threw an interception every 19 pass attempts that game (he is going 60 attempts between interceptions in 2016) and turnovers snuffed out an otherwise great performance by the offense.
This game is also setting up to have a lot of offensive fireworks. The below viz reads left to right and ranks where each team lands in the conference based on at what % of a defense’s plays are 10+, 20+, 30+ and so on yards. Arizona State is currently 11th in % of plays 10+ yards and 12th in the rest of the categories. WSU is last in the conference in % of plays 10+ yards but improves significantly in giving up plays 20+ yards and through the rest of the bins.
What this tells me is that WSU is getting back to its “bend, but don’t break” self of giving up 10ish yards often, but not letting you pop big plays. Arizona State’s trend tells me that they leak yards and let teams be efficient, but are also very susceptible to giving up big plays.
A lot of internet ink has been spilled talking about how much emphasis Alex Grinch puts on turnovers. The below viz looks at WSU’s crazy improvement in turnovers forced per game. Grinch believes that 2 take aways equals victory and WSU is 12-3 during his tenure when they get 2. The Cougs currently sit at #2 (to keep with the theme) in the Pac-12 in turnovers forced per game, averaging 2.5. Since Chris Ball left ASU after the 2013 season they’ve been on a downward trend in forcing turnovers and currently sit 8th getting about 1.5 a game. Hopefully this means Falk and the offense will have a better chance to hold on to the ball vs the more opportunistic ASU teams of previous seasons.
Lastly, one more shout out to the offensive line, especially after Cody O’Connell is getting all this pub for being on mid-season All American lists. The Cougs rank 16th in the Power 5 in drop backs per sack allowed, going about 22 pass attempts in between Luke Falk getting hit. This is important, as Michael Preston brought up in his Most Important Person Post, because ASU has a proclivity to blitz. Now, even with their aggressive nature on defense, they’re only 8th in the Pac-12 in how often they get sacks (once every 19.8 pass attempts) which hopefully bodes well for Falk staying upright.
It’s now the third week in a row where I’m feeling pretty good heading into a game for our Cougars. I think this one sets up nicely for a solid performance against the Sun Devils. The desert has been a bug-a-boo for the Cougs, but hopefully the demon’s they’ve exorcised in Tucson were the same ones haunting them in Tempe. What do you see happening in this game and what stands out to you in the data?