On Saturday the ASU Football team invades the Palouse to play the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, WA. Kickoff is at 1:30 pm Arizona time. While casual ASU fans may view this as a “bounce back game” for the Sun Devils, it is anything but that. Washington State is 5-2 and a solid football team. One of their losses was last weekend to No. 13 Stanford where the Cougars lost by a field goal.
This is not the hapless Washington State team that Pac-12 opponents have gotten used to over the last ten years. The Cougars are ranked third in the nation in passing yards. Equally important is the fact that they are second in the conference, behind only the Sun Devils in tackles for loss. Yes, this season, Washington State is actually playing defense. This team is shaping up to look like the teams that head coach Mike Leach put together when he was at Texas Tech. Needless to say, ASU would have their hands full even if they were having a stellar season. The fact that the Sun Devils are struggling makes this game a perilous one.
The ASU Devils Den offers the Three Tines to Victory over the Cougars:
First Tine to Victory: Fix Yourself
This Tine applies to every football game, but it is especially appropriate this week. The truth is that in all of ASU’s losses, the Sun Devils are their own worst enemy. Even in some of their victories, ASU has been plagued by dropped passes, fumbles, silly penalties and missed assignments. Bonehead plays. They literally cannot get out of their own way. ASU head coach Todd Graham will be the first to say that his team needs to focus on themselves more than focusing on Washington State. It’s true. If ASU can eliminate the self-inflicted mistakes, they can play with anyone (see UCLA and Utah).
Second Tine to Victory: Keep Your Foot on the Rushing Attack Pedal
It’s no secret now that the identity and biggest strength of this ASU football team is their rushing attack. They have had success running the ball against every team they’ve played. And although they may not have garnered the reputation that Stanford has, most experts agree that ASU can run the ball on anyone. They need to do that. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to recognize this, swallow his pride and pound the football. With the duo of running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, the ASU offense can burn clock and shift momentum with a tenacious ground attack. Quarterback Mike Bercovici needs to continue to do his part as well. He needs to make the correct reads and keep the ball when it is appropriate in order to be a running threat.
Third Tine to Victory: Play With a Purpose
For analysts and die-hard fans, this game is one to keep an eye on. It’s the type of game that ASU hasn’t played in for three years. It’s a game that essentially has no tangible significance for ASU. With three conference losses, winning the Pac-12 South is no longer possible. Neither is winning ten games for a third straight season. Maybe, if they win out, they’ll get a decent bowl game. Maybe. But besides the UofA game in two weeks, this ASU team is playing solely for pride. So, it will be interesting to see if coach Graham and his staff can rally the troops to play hard or if this team will roll over, call it quits and start day-dreaming about the off-season.
The details surrounding this game have all the makings of a problem for ASU. This Sun Devil team has played six nationally televised, big-stage, prime time games so far this season. Saturday’s game, however, will not be one of those games. This will be ASU’s first true day game. (kickoff is at 12:30 local time). It will be aired on the Pac-12 Network and the assumption is that not too many people will be watching. The game will be played in a small town in a small, chilly stadium. In these circumstances, a coach’s biggest fear is that his team will show up and play disinterested, passionless football. It could happen. ASU fans haven’t seen Graham-coached teams do that very often. But it could be argued that they haven’t played “Todd Graham-style football” all season. The leadership on this football team must convince their teammates that they have plenty to play for, most of all, pride in their school, their team and each other.
There it is, the Three Tines to Victory. Most people are probably concerned about stopping the Cougar passing attack. That’s a legitimate concern. But it’s not a mystery. The coaching staff knows how to deal with this Washington State offense, they’ve been dealing with it for three years. Nickel and dime packages will be used. Blitz packages will be thrown at Cougar quarterback Luke Falk. In the end, it will come down to who executes better and who wants it more.