Devils Den Blog

Preview: Washington State Cougars 4-4 (2-2 Pac-12)


Key Wins: USC 5-3 (2-2 Pac-12), Cal 1-7 (0-5 Pac-12)

Key Losses: Auburn 7-1 (3-1 SEC), Oregon 8-0 (5-0 Pac-12), Stanford 7-1 (5-1 Pac-12), Oregon State 6-2 (4-1 Pac-12)

NFL Draft Prospects: K Andrew Furney, LB Darryl Monroe, S Deone Bucannon, QB Connor Halliday

The now #25 (in the AP Poll) Arizona State Sun Devils are coming most recently off of a bye week, but still feeling the high of beating the then-#20 Washington Huskies 53-24 on Oct. 19.

ASU started the game by receiving the kickoff, but punted after three plays. Washington then took 3:15 off the clock in the first quarter, using 11 plays to score a touchdown, a one-yard run by running back Bishop Sankey. Those would be the only points that the Huskies would end up scoring in the first half. The first quarter ended, 7-3, a close game, as most expected, but once that second quarter began, the Sun Devils never looked back. ASU ended up scoring 26 points in the second quarter, via two Taylor Kelly touchdown passes, one to running back Marion Grice, which originally looked incomplete, but after further review was called a touchdown because Grice’s forearm hit inbounds before the rest of his body hit out of bounds, and another to tight end Chris Coyle. Kelly also ran the ball for a touchdown and Zane Gonzalez hit two field goals, one from 22 yards and the other from 36 to give the Sun Devils a 29-7 going into halftime. The Huskies came out and scored immediately in the second half, on a 70-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Keith Price to wide receiver Kevin Smith. ASU did not fret and answered with another Taylor Kelly TD run. Both teams then traded field goals before heading to the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, Grice would add to his nation-leading touchdown count by rushing for two more TDs, and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins caught a 20-yard TD pass from Price to round out the scoring and the huge homecoming victory for the Sun Devils.

The ASU defense looked absolutely incredible against the Huskies. The run defense, which had been porous all season, held Sankey, who came into the game as the nation’s leading rusher to just 22 yards on the ground, and thanks to seven sacks, held the Huskies as a whole to -5 yards. Those sacks ended up knocking Price out of the game and bringing in backup Cyler Miles.

Now, the Sun Devils will leave the comfort of the Valley of the Sun and head to the Pacific Northwest, where they will play the Washington State Huskies at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash for a Halloween night test on ESPN. The game will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PDT.

Washington State, colloquially known as “Wazzu,” has had an up and down season so far in 2013. The Cougars opened the season by traveling south to take on the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. The Cougars put up a much tougher test than anticipated but ended up losing to the Tigers, 31-24.

The next week, Wazzu took a trip to Los Angeles to take on USC. In a game that was marred by a lack of offense by both teams (Wazzu never scored an offensive touchdown), the Cougars took down the Trojans, 10-7, in what has become their signature win so far this season.

WSU spent the next two weeks out of the Pac-12 welcoming Southern Utah University and the University of Idaho, whose campus lies only 15 minutes from the campus of Washington State, to Pullman. The Cougars wasted no time with the FCS-level Thunderbirds, dispatching them 48-10, and rode that momentum into the next week where they demolished the Vandals, 42-0.

The real tests then started up again, as Wazzu re-entered the Pac-12 fray by traveling to Seattle, not to play rival Washington, but to host the Stanford Cardinal at Century Link Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks. The Cougars were overmatched and outplayed by the Cardinal, as Stanford won 55-17.

The Cougars then had to regroup before traveling down to the the Bay Area and taking on the Cal Golden Bears at Memorial Stadium in Berkley, Calif. The Cougars doubled-up Cal and defeated them, 44-22.

The state of Oregon came next for Wazzu, as they would host Oregon State before traveling to Eugene to play Oregon. In two games that would show that Washington State is just a few levels below OSU and UO, the Cougars ended up losing to the Beavers 52-24, and then to Oregon 62-38.

The Cougars, like the Sun Devils, have had a bye week to prepare for the Halloween night game.

Although limited, the success that the Cougars have had this season is mostly due to the play of quarterback Connor Halliday. In a game that all Sun Devil fans remember, Halliday had a coming out party the last time the Devils came to Pullman, throwing for 494 yards and four touchdowns in the 37-27 Cougar victory. Halliday has looked better than that at times, but that is mostly due to the Air Raid offense run by second-year head coach Mike Leach. Halliday has thrown the ball 428 times this season, including 89 attempts against Oregon, and completed 273 of those passes, with 58 coming in that Oregon game, a completion percentage of 63.78. Those 273 receptions has resulted in 2798 yards and 18 touchdowns. Halliday has also thrown 17 interceptions, however. If the Cougars get the 2011 version of Halliday, then they could be in good shape for an upset on Thursday.

Mike Leach has also made a remarkable turnaround with the Washington State program. Leach, who was fired from Texas Tech after allegations of player abuse surfaced, was part of the group of new Pac-12 coaches in 2012, a group that includes ASU’s Todd Graham. While the results have not shown on the field yet, the Cougars finished 2012 with a 3-9 record, a record identical to the 2011 record that ended up getting head coach Paul Wulff, the attitudes around the WSU program are much better and with each year expectations for the team are getting higher. The Cougars have already surpassed their win total from the previous two seasons, with four wins this year, and could shock the world if they become bowl eligible by upsetting two of their remaining four opponents (they upset Washington in the Apple Cup last year, who’s saying they couldn’t do it again?).

Washington State has struggled on defense this season giving up 1,375 yards on the ground (171.88 yards per game) and 2,148 yards through the air (268.5 yards per game), which sets up well for the Sun Devils. What also sets up well for ASU, is the fact that the Cougars’ leading tackler is safety Deone Bucannon. ASU, who ran for 314 total yards against Washington, should be able to put up some nice numbers against the Cougars defense. ASU does need to watch out for turnovers, as the Cougars have caught 11 interceptions, forced 10 fumbles and recovered eight of them so far this season.

When the Cougars and Devils meet on the field Halloween night, it is going to be a great atmosphere in Pullman. WSU President Elson S. Floyd cancelled all Thursday afternoon classes, so the students are sure to be rowdy. ASU looked absolutely fantastic against Washington, but that was at home, and the Devils have not won on the road this season, losing to Stanford at the Farm in Palo Alto, Calif., and to Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Cougars are not as strong of an opponent as the Cardinal or the Irish, but being on the road, in the cold (the forecast for Pullman on Thursday is a high of 52 degrees and a low of 34 degrees) really worries me. However, I believe that ASU will find a way to overcome the weather and the atmosphere, and earn their first road win since the Territorial Cup last year.

That Wazzu defense is just too porous for me to believe that they will stand any chance against ASU’s high octane offense, no matter the temperature. I believe that Kelly will have a fantastic game and Marion Grice will add a few scores to his total. And, if the ASU defense can perform like they did against Washington, then this game will not even be close.

Prediction: ASU 48, WSU 34


About Jeff Vinton

Jeff Vinton is a sophomore journalism and mass communication major at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He was born and raised in Fort Collins, CO and graduated in 2012 from Fort Collins High School.

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