Gary Doran

Breaking Down the Washington State Cougars


This week’s opponent break down features the Sun Devil’s first November conference opponent; the Washington State Cougars. The format is the same as last week’s in that there are several offensive and defensive statistics comparing the Devils and the Cougars in a side-by-side comparison. There is also a section on some statistical trends on the 2015 ASU football team. Another feature is a comparison of the two teams by their running and passing plays-by-down, by half and within the red zone. The comparisons are from both an offensive and a defensive standpoint. As always, we want to thank for their excellent compilation of statistics, along with the stats provided by the Pac-12 Conference


The Cougars are more productive passing the ball this year compared to the Devils, while the Devils are better on the ground. Seven out of every ten plays run by the Cougar offense is a pass play, whereas the Devils run a 50/50 mix of run and pass plays per game.  The Washington State pass defense is averaging allowing roughly two out of every three opponent pass attempts to be completed.

One item not showing up on the offensive tables is that four of the seven interceptions thrown by ASU have come in either the fourth quarter or in overtime. By the same token, all seven of the Cougar interceptions have come in the second half of their games.

Although it doesn’t show up in the tables, but the Cougar pass defense is tops in the conference in giving up the fewest yards per game at 205.4, while ASU’s pass defense tenth at 259.5 yards per game.  On the other hand, ASU’s run defense is third in the conference giving up an average of 136.4 yards per games, while WSU’s run defense is eleventh giving up an average of 206.6 yards per game. Cougar defense is allowing over five yards per carry in its games.

Where ASU has shown to struggle a bit in the red zone, WSU allows opponents to score over 90 percent of the time within its red zone. It also allows opponents to score a touchdown over 70 percent of the time from within its red zone. The Cougars have given up the third most rushing touchdowns in the conference so far this season.

ASU Trends

We analyzed several characteristics that ASU head coach Todd Graham has preached since his arrival to see if there are any trends or correlations in winning games. Here is what we found:





In essence, ASU has shown to double its chances to win ball games when it does not lose the turnover battle. The two years that ASU has had ten win season are also ones where the Devils were either first or second in the conference in net turnover margin. The Taylor Kelly versus Mike Bercovici graph may help point out why Kelly kept the starting job when he returned after his injury last year.



Over 80 percent of the games played in the Todd Graham era have seen the Devils be the team with fewer penalties. They have won 70 percent of those games, which is close to the Devils overall winning percentage under Todd Graham. What’s interesting is that of the eight games the Devils received more penalties, they also lost the turnover battle. Statistically speaking, if the Devils had more penalties than their opponent, then it was roughly twice as likely that they also lost the turnover battle in that game.A logical conclusion could be drawn that since not committing penalties are stressed so strongly with Graham coached teams, that if the Devils are doing poorly in that area in a game, they are also more likely to be doing poorly in other important areas of the game.

Disruptive Plays On Defense (TFLs & Sacks)


The percentage of disruptive plays the Devils cause as a percentage of total play they face seems to be a key for the Devils defense, more than just the number of disruptive plays caused in the game. As an example, the Devils have been able get a TFL or a sack on more than one out of every six plays its opponents run in almost 40 percent of their games, and they have been able to win almost 80 percent of those games.

It’s interesting that the Devils have played eight games where the defense caused less than ten percent of the plays to be either a TFL or a sack, and won five of those games. In fact, the Devils beat Duke in last year’s Sun Bowl while only registering one TFL and no sacks in the 77 plays they faced. However, they did win the turnover battle 2-0 in that game.

Explosive Plays


In considering running plays of ten yards or more and passing plays of 15 yards or more, the offensive explosiveness has been tapering off each year. From the 2012 season to the present, the Devil offense has seen a decline of about 20 percent in the percentage of explosive plays it makes. Also, it hasn’t been a one-year drop, but a steady decline.

The decline also shows up in the percentage of touchdowns the offense gets to the number of plays it runs, along with the same for getting first downs. Does it point to other defenses making better adjustments to the Devil’s style of play than the offensive adjustments made by the Devils, or is it something else.

Rushing Offense


The Washington State run game on third down or in the red zone will not keep defensive coordinators up at night based on their current production.  It’s surprising that the Cougar offense is able to break off a greater percentage of ten plus runs plays compared to the Devil’s run game.  It’s also surprising that the Cougars get a greater percentage of running first downs, especially seeing the poor third down running performance.

Passing Offense


There is almost a 20 percent difference in completion percentages in the red zone between the Devils and the Cougars.  It’s also interesting that the Cougar offense sees almost a ten percent drop in its completion percentage between the first and second halves of their games, while the completion percentage goes up for the Devils in the second half.  The Cougars have thrown 16 touchdown passes with no interceptions in the first half, but only twelve touchdown passes and seven interceptions in the second half.

Rush Defense


The Cougar run defense allows almost five yards a carry on critical third down runs.  It also averages giving up one more yard per carry to its opponents in the red zone compared to the Devils run defense.  In the third quarter of their games, the Cougar run defense has averaged giving up over 6.50 yards per carry. While in the first quarter, the Cougar run defense has only surrendered one rushing touchdown in 97 rushing attempts.

Pass Defense


The Cougar pass defense has allowed almost 73 percent of opponent passes to be completed in the critical fourth quarter. The Cougar pass defense, along with the Beaver pass defense has faced the fewest number of opponent passes in the conference.

What the Numbers Mean

The Cougars offense will complete a lot of passes, a given in this Air Raid offense.  Many of them will be short yardage in nature, but it will be interesting to see if the Devils pass defense can limit giving up the big pass play.  It will also be interesting seeing how the ASU offense matches up with the Washington State defense when ASU gets into the red zone.  On offense, the Devils do seem to have an advantage in the run game, however on defense, ASU’s strength in its run defense will be mitigated a bit since the Cougars offense averages passing the ball 70-percent of the time in their games.  It may come down to which team wins the turnover battle, where neither team has a positive turnover margin this year.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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