Clearly the Cougars' best passer since record-setter Alex Brink and possibly potentially as talented as former star Jason Gesser, who most recently led WSU to the Rose Bowl, sophomore Jeff Tuel has shown a wealth of ability this season at the helm for Washington State.
Statistically, Tuel is on the path to a 3,000-yard year, with 2,033 yards through eight games, completing 59.6 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Also able to gain yards by foot, Tuel is in the positive in net rushing yards, totaling 56 yards after 161 are removed due to sacks.
WSU's achievements in the rushing game have been minimal thus far, as the team has rushed for a mere net total of 651 yards, led by James Montgomery (87 carries, 323 yards, four TDs) and followed by Logwone Mitz (40 carries, 149 yards, two TDs).
Carl Winston (25 carries, 88 yards), Chantz Staden (12 carries, 54 yards) and Marcus Richmond (three carries, 13 yards), the only Arizona native on WSU's roster, have also seen duty in the backfield for the Cougars.
Through eight games, Karstetter paces WSU with 44 receptions totaling 479 yards and a team-high six touchdowns, while Wilson's 796 yards ranks as the most in the Pac-10, while the true freshman also has 41 receptions and four scores to his credit.
Wilson has undoubtedly been the biggest surprise for WSU this season and one of the most unexpected key contributors in the Pac-10 this year, as his yardage total is 126 yards more than the second-leading receiver in the conference (Washington's Jermaine Kearse, 670 yards). Unfortunately for Sun Devil fans, Wilson's only competing BCS conference offer was from ASU and the Cougars clearly earned a steal when Wilson chose in February to make Pullman his home.
Jeffrey Solomon (17 receptions, 236 yards, one TD), Daniel Blackledge (14 receptions, 172 yards, two TDs), Isiah Barton (11 receptions, 97 yards) and Gino Simone (nine receptions, 107 yards) round out the depth at wide receiver for the Cougars.
In the quest for futility in production by tight ends, WSU is in close competitions with ASU as a one-yard touchdown catch by Andrei Lintz is the Cougars' only statistical achievement by the squad's tight ends.
Along the offensive line from left to right, the Cougars feature a pair of first-year Division I collegians in high-talent true freshman left tackle John Fullington and left guard Wade Jacobson, a junior college transfer to WSU this past offseason. The remainder of the starting line features much greater collective collegiate experience as senior center Zach Williams, junior right guard B.J. Guerra and senior right tackle Micah Hannam complete the quintet.
Though WSU has shown promise in the pass game, their offense is very air-heavy, with little ability shown on the ground. However, after Cal's Kevin Riley carved ASU's secondary with passes dotted to Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen and others, Jeff Tuel, Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson surely hope to pick up where the Bears left off.
A huge soft spot for the Cougars has been their pass protection, as WSU has let up 31 sacks in eight games, potentially creating a vehicle for ASU to negate the Cougars aerial abilities.
After a man-card revocation style of experience that ASU had at Berkeley, the Devils would be well served to –in a legal and disciplined way – exert their frustrations on the Cougar offense. There is truly no excuse that Lawrence Guy, Junior Onyeali, Jamaar Jarrett, James Brooks and others shouldn't be able to haunt Tuel for 60 minutes on Saturday.
ASU's defense, by-and-large, has been a bitter disappointment thus far in 2010, but the inadequacies of WSU's front line may enable the Devils to dominate the point of attack and give Sparky some of his swagger back.
Defensively, the Cougars are based out of a traditional 4-3 front, with athletic and talented sophomore end Travis Long (36 tackles, team-high 8.0 TFL and team-high 4.0 sacks) as the most capable lineman.
Long is flanked by senior Kevin Kooyman (24 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) as the starting ends, with junior Brandon Rankin (15 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks) and senior Bernard Wolfgramm (nine tackles) as the projected starters at defensive tackle.
Sophomore Anthony Laurenzi (eight tackles) has also seen ample reps in the rotation at defensive tackle, while redshirt freshman Justin Clayton (12 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks) may be the line's most versatile athlete, as he as listed as the top reserve at both end positions and also the primary contingent to Wolfgramm at one of the tackle spots.
The Cougars have some talented defenders among their three linebacker positions, with productive junior Alex Hoffman-Ellis (team-high 55 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and team-high two interceptions) as the first-string weak side linebacker, while steady senior Myron Beck (36 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) mans the strong side.
Big-talent freshman C.J. Mizell (32 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks), a one-time Florida State signee, sees extensive action at middle linebacker, backed by Sekope Kaufusi (19 tackles, 2.0 TFL), who also stands as the main reserve behind Hoffman-Ellis. True freshman Eric Oertel (one tackle) is listed on the depth chart as the second-string strong side 'backer next to Beck.
WSU's secondary is young to say the least -- as the projected starting corners and safeties consist of two freshmen and two sophomores.
True freshman strong safety Deone Bucannon (55 tackles, 2.0 TFL, one interception) has been a very pleasant surprise for the Cougars during the infant stages of his collegiate career, and is joined in the starting lineup by sophomore free safety Tyree Toomer (44 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks).
At cornerback, sophomore Daniel Simmons (26 tackles), and redshirt freshman Nolan Washington (22 tackles) are slated as the first-stringers, with experienced junior Aire Justin (six tackles) as the top backup cornerback.
Though the talent level is improving on defense, the Cougars have still been allowing opponents to rack up large offensive outputs.
Statistically, WSU has a major deficiency in run defense, allowing 237.6 yards per game and 21 touchdowns on the ground, while also permitting offenses to efficient orchestrate the pass game, as teams have completed 67.5-percent of their passes on the year against WSU.
These numbers surely won't spook the Sun Devil when they clash with WSU the day before Halloween, as the matchup certainly favors ASU's capable running game featuring Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks.
Especially with Steven Threet on the mend from a concussion suffered last Saturday, reserve Brock Osweiler nursing a back injury and Samson Szakacsy still acclimating to healthy duty, the Sun Devils would enjoy nothing more than to ride the backs of the aforementioned ballcarriers.
The key, though, will be continuity among the Sun Devil offensive line, as WSU has the talent needed in the front seven to take advantage of windows of opportunity.
In all, WSU has been a team that has allowed opponents to walk through their doors all year, so ASU plausibly may not be forced into taking too many chances and risking turnovers or sputtered offensive drives.
Special Teams Preview
On the year, Grasu has connected on four-of-six field goal attempts, but has shown a massive leg at times -- specifically in his 56-yarder earlier this year.
One of the better punters in the conference, Forrest averages 45.2 yards on 41 punts.
Andrew Furney also sees action in the kicking game, main on extra point attempts.
In the return game, receiver Isiah Barton carries a 21.7-yard average on kickoff returns with Aire Justin and Carl Winston also returning kicks, while Justin and Leon Brooks have both seen time on punt returns.
In all, the Cougar return game has not been overly productive, as Barton has the longest kick or punt return this season at only 34 yards.
After a pitiful and embarrassing performance that has to be categorized as one of the poorest efforts of Erickson's tenure in Tempe, there's really no way to predict what Sun Devil team will be on the field Saturday.
It is a resounding understatement to admit that ASU's resolve and pride have been viciously tested over the past week. As the margin for error nears zero for ASU's postseason hopes, Saturday will show whether the Devils have the fortitude to right their wrongs.
Though having the Cougars on this week's slate is in many ways a blessing, this Washington State squad has shown marked improvements from the previous few years and can't be taken quite as lightly as has been recently permissible.
After "better-than-we-thought-they'd-do" losses to Wisconsin and Oregon, the tide has turned in a potentially dismal direction after ASU's blowout loss at Cal. This week's matchup needs to not only stop the bleeding from last week's wounds, it also must help quickly form a scab and allow ASU to heal in hopes of wrapping up the final third of the season in a positive fashion.
The Devils have beaten Washington State six straight times and have the tools to make it seven, but ASU has to play in a responsible, accountable fashion to avoid a self-destructive game that could feasibly demoralize the program.
However, despite general improvement, WSU has continued to allow gaudy numbers on defense, giving ASU a noticeable chance to assert its will on the ground and through the air.
One can't help but be cliché to admit that this Saturday could be a "Trick-or-Treat" situation for the Sun Devils.
Roster News and Injury Notes
• Shelly Lyons is out for the remainder of the season (broken foot).
• Steven Threet (concussion) and Oliver Aaron (concussion) will play.
• Jon Hargis (preseason ACL injury) is expected to make is 2010 debut.
Five Questions: ASU at Washington State
• How can ASU respond after its dismal performance at California last week?
• Will quarterback Steven Threet's health be a factor in this game?
• Can ASU show greater discipline on defense and avoid excessive penalties? • Will kicker Thomas Weber be able to gain some consistency?
• In general, what will the team's overall demeanor be?
• ASU head coach Dennis Erickson was the head coach at WSU from 1987-88.
• ASU defensive coordinator Craig Bray and offensive line coach Gregg Smith coached at WSU under Erickson from 1987-88. Bray also coached under Mike Price at WSU from 1994-99.
• ASU wide receivers coach Steve Broussard was an All-Pac-10 running back and track and field athlete at WSU from 1985-89. He also was an assistant coach for the Cougars from 2007-09 before joining ASU's staff this year.
• ASU cornerbacks coach Greg Burns earned All-Pac-10 honors during his playing career at WSU (1991-95).
• ASU offensive graduate assistant Alex Hamill was a member of the WSU football team from 2004-07.
• WSU linebacker Myron Beck and ASU safety Max Tabach were teammates at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College in 2007.
• WSU cornerback Anthony Carpenter was a teammate of ASU cornerback Devan Spann at Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra High School.
• WSU offensive lineman Tim Hodgdon attended Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Tesoro High School, the same as ASU offensive linemen Sil Ajawara and Evan Finkenberg, as well as current ASU verbal commit Sean O'Grady.
• WSU running back Marcus Richmond is an Arizona native and attended Mesa Dobson High School.
• WSU defensive back Daniel Simmons was a teammate of ASU's Omar Bolden at Ontario (Calif.) Colony High School.
• WSU defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm attended the College of San Mateo (Calif.), as did ASU's Eddie Elder.