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Interactive Preview: A statistical look at WSU vs. ASU

Can the return of River Cracraft and his stellar play on 3rd down help the Cougs shock Arizona State in the Valley of the Sun?

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Sun Devils will look to dial up some blitzes and crank up the heat on WSU on Saturday.  Luke Falk showed great decision making under pressure versus Oregon State, and he’ll likely need to be even more on his game (if that’s even possible) in Tempe.

We showed a lot of love toward Falk postgame, and it was well deserved, but the key for me this week is the WSU wide receivers -- in particular the return of River Cracraft.  With the amount of pressure the ASU defense creates, Isiah Myers, Dom Williams and company will need to continue to provide openings for Falk throughout the game, particularly on 3rd down.

Against Oregon State the Cougs had their best game since week one on 3rd down, converting 57 percent of the time, yet the game still went down to the wire.  This further highlights how near perfect the offense has to play to keep WSU in the game and I don’t foresee that being any different this week.

On the topic of 3rd downs and our wide receiving corps, I have a question for you: Which receiver on the WSU roster do you think has the best 3rd down conversion rate (percent of catches on 3rd down that result in a first down)?

I was surprised to find out that it is not River Cracraft (83 percent), but Vince Mayle (92 percent) who leads the Cougs in that category (although River has more total catches for first downs).   Those two players make up 32% of WSU’s 3rd down conversions through the air.  It will be huge to have them both on the field, and this further complicates whether my wife and I are naming our son River or Vince when he arrives next month.

On paper it looks like the ASU pass defense (7th in YPA and 6th in TD% in the Pac-12) may not be as tough as Falk’s previous match-ups with USC and OSU; however, ASU ranks 3rd in passing first downs allowed and 2nd in passes over 15+ yards allowed, which shows their speed and ability to tackle in space.

The Sun Devil defense is also very good at stopping the pass in the red zone, ranking 2nd in completion percentage (42.9 percent) and 3rd in touchdowns given up (8).  This leads me to one huge shout out to Connor Halliday and a hope that Falk can keep this streak alive.

So far in 2014, the Cougs have thrown 30 touchdowns in the red zone and 0, yes 0 interceptions.  In 2013 WSU threw 5 picks in the red zone to only 20 touchdowns.   It’s a massive improvement and one that needs to continue to give WSU a shot.

Looking at the ASU offense, Taylor Kelly’s 2nd favorite target on 3rd down is DJ Foster, but he only moves the chains on 57 percent of his 3rd down catches.  This is big because Jaelen Strong is possibly out with a concussion, so the Cougar defense could have some success in stopping ASU if they can keep them in passing situations on 3rd down.

In order to do that they’ll need to stop both Kelly and Foster in the running game, which has been a tall task in WSU’s previous two meetings vs a Kelly led offense.

ASU feel asleep during #Pac12afterdark last week, hopefully the early start has them sleep walking again and the Cougs can pull off a win for the second consecutive year in the state of Arizona.

What do you think are the keys for the Cougs on Saturday?

Quick note on the graphics:

*I used the top 100 national dataset for the view on 3rd down catch conversions, which is why DJ Foster and others are not in the view.  When you hover over a logo, all the stats are for receptions on 3rd down.

*The axis looking at 3rd down conversions do not start at zero, I did this to cut down on white space in the views

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