Washington State Preview

If Arizona State's loss last Saturday at Oregon State was indeed a wake-up call, the Sun Devils will have to prove as much when Washington State comes into town Saturday morning. ASU will face a struggling Cougars squad, but also one that has shown at times that it can cause superior teams to really scuffle against them. Joe Healey takes a closer look at ASU’s next opponent.

Washington State Offensive Personnel

What a unique past several months it has been in Pullman at quarterback for the Cougars: Prior to the season, two scholarship reserves in Austin Apodaca and Phoenix native Tyler Bruggman left the program, largely because former walk-on Luke Falk had risen to the backup position behind record-setting passer Connor Halliday.

As the 2014 season progressed, Halliday seemed well on his way to setting a multitude of NCAA passing records, including the single-game mark he claimed earlier this year against California.

Unfortunately, however, Halliday was lost for the season against USC, placing Falk into the starting lineup, but much to the Cougars’ favor, Falk stepped up admirably by guiding a surprise win against Oregon State two weeks ago before the Cougs’ bye week.

In that 39-32 win, Falk, making his first career collegiate start, threw for 471 yards and five touchdowns, enabling Wazzu not to miss a beat in its prolific pass attack under head coach Mike Leach.

Falk, a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman from Utah, has season totals of 903 passing yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception while completing over 70% of his passes. Falk gives WSU a bright future and interesting present to conclude the 2014 season. With only one full game of film and no prior head-to-head experience as would have been the case if Halliday were in the lineup, the Sun Devil defense has to prepare for the new tricks Falk presents on Saturday.

Just about as one-sided as it gets in college football, Washington State ranks next-to-last in the nation with a per-game average of 43.6 yards, as the Cougars only register about 20 carries per game including sacks allowed.

The team leader in rushing is Jamal Morrow, with 309 yards on 75 carries. Gerard Wicks has posted all four of the team’s rushing touchdowns and has 212 total yards in 57 carries.

To put Washington State’s run game into perspective, the record-setting effort Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin had last week is 28 yards shy of the net total WSU has gained in 10 games this season.

Naturally, the numbers in the pass game greatly outweigh the stats on the ground, with Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Vince Mayle leading the way with his 86 receptions for 1,152 yards with nine touchdowns.

One of the most dangerous receivers in college football, if Jaelen Strong is able to play for ASU, Saturday will treat onlookers to a battle of two of the nation’s premier pass-catchers.

Behind him is a slew of big-number pass-catchers such as Isiah Myers (68-795-11), Dominique Williams (35-571-7) and Tyler Baker (23-267-2), all listed as the first-string receivers this week.

River Cracraft, the team’s third-leading receiver (59-698-7) did not play against Oregon State after suffering an injury versus Arizona.

Used more as a receiver than a rusher, Morrow has caught 57 passes for 402 yards from his running back position.

Left to right, the Cougar offensive line figures to consist of tackle Joe Dahl, guard Gunnar Eklund, center Riley Sorenson, guard Eduardo Middleton and tackle Cole Madison.

Washington State Offensive Summary

Due to the fact that The Pirate avoids running the ball like the plague, Wazzu’s offense is as predictable as any in the country in terms of running versus passing. However, that predictability certainly doesn’t equate to ease in stopping the offense, as the Cougars boast one of the nation’s most prominent attacks.

Falk’s sample is certainly smaller than if Connor Halliday was playing, but he showed an admirable skill set last time out against Oregon State. To his disposal are some of the most statistically valuable receivers in the league, including Mayle, a strong candidate for top-level postseason honors at wide receiver.

ASU undoubtedly will have to spread its defense to match the wide open Cougar attack, while also hoping to use well-timed blitzes and active hands at the line of scrimmage to disrupt and disturb Falk’s rhythm.

Washington State Defensive Personnel

The Cougar defensive front features Xavier Cooper at tackle, Destiny Vaeao at end with Kalafitoni Pole between them at nose tackle.

Cooper has enjoyed a good season thus far, notching 29 tackles including 7.0 for loss with 4.0 sacks. Pole has tallied 14 tackles including 1.5 for loss while Vaeao has totaled eight tackles including 2.0 for loss.

At the “Buck” position, Kache Palacio has had a solid season as a pass rusher, while SAM Cyrus Coen, MIKE Peyton Pelluer and WILL Jeremiah Allison round out the Cougs’ group of linebackers.

Allison ranks second on the team with 69 tackles including 8.5 for loss with 3.5 sacks, while Coen has totaled 53 tackles including 5.5 for loss. Palacio has totaled a team-high 5.5 sacks among his 45 total tackles, while Pelluer has posted 27 tackles including 4.0 for loss.

Darryl Monroe, listed as the backup MIKE ‘backer, ranks third on the team with 65 total tackles including 3.0 for loss.

In the secondary, Pat Porter and Charleston White are listed as the top cornerbacks on the team’s depth chart, though Daquawn Brown, the team’s leader in tackles (71) and pass breakups (11) is listed as a backup cornerback.

On the year, White has totaled 32 tackles and a share of the team-high of 11 pass breakups, while Porter has nine total stops but has only appeared in four games.

At safety, Taylor Taliulu is slotted as the first-team strong safety with Darius Lemora at free safety. Lemora has posted 58 tackles on the year while Taliulu has registered 53 total stops.

Washington State Defensive Summary

In conference play, Washington State has shown serious holes on defense as the Cougars allow an even 42.0 points per game against Pac-12 foes including 60 points to California and 59 to Arizona.

Within the league, only California and Colorado allow more yards and points per game, while Washington State ranks 11th in the league allowing 307.8 passing yards per game and the Cougs also have the poorest pass defense efficiency rating (159.7) in the Pac-12.

Additionally, no team in the conference has fewer than Wazzu’s two interceptions and the Cougars also stand ninth in the league with 23 quarterback sacks on the year.

In fact, if not for the Golden Bears, WSU would have the nation’s worst pass defense and the Cougars tie for worst in the country in interceptions – creating a big, bold crimson bull’s eye for the Sun Devils to shoot for Saturday.

Jaelen Strong’s availability for ASU is certainly a concern and Taylor Kelly’s momentum crushing interceptions at Oregon State can potentially be deflating for the Sun Devil offense, but even if playing short of full strength, the Devils should be able to viciously attack the Cougar defense.

Washington State Special Teams Summary

Quentin Breshears has conducted the majority of the kicking this season, connecting on 8-of-11 field goals with a long of 46 yards. At punter, Jordan Dascalo averages 42.5 yards on 41 punts.

Jamal Morrow is WSU’s primary kick returner, averaging 22.5 yards on 16 returns, while Rickey Galvin is the team’s top punt returner with an 8.4-yard average on 18 returns.

Final Analysis

At 3-7, Washington State will not be making a second consecutive postseason appearance so its final two games against Arizona State are primarily played for pride and the hopes of spoiling opponents’ success.

The type of mentality that follows a team already aware of its fate can be a double-edged sword; the “nothing to lose” mentality can cause a team to play loose and free, but the lack of postseason implications can also minimize importance to some players.

With the exception of the haunting loss in Pullman in 2011, ASU has absolutely dominated Washington State over the past decade, with Todd Graham’s two meetings resulting in a combined 101-28 score in favor of the Sun Devils.

In terms of talent, the Sun Devils have a distinct advantage, but momentum creeps this game to more of a stalemate. If played a week ago, many would expect a massive ASU blowout, but after the Devils’ loss in Corvallis the presence of uncertainty is clear and present.

Saturday’s game against a ranked opponent and then the season-ending rivalry matchup against Washington in the Apple Cup constitute Washington State’s “postseason” for 2014, so the Sun Devil can expect Mike Leach and his players to pull out all the stops with no reservation in Tempe.

It will admittedly be interesting to see how large and spirited the 11 a.m. post-defeat crowd will be in Sun Devil Stadium, but Graham and the Sun Devils will need to wipe the slate from last weekend clean and execute to keep ASU in the hunt for the division title.

Familiar Faces

• ASU S Jordan Simone previously played at Washington State. He also graduated from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline High School

• ASU Co-Defensive Coordinator Chris Ball coached at Washington State from 2008-11

• ASU DL Demetrius Cherry initially signed with Washington State out of high school before attending Contra Costa College

• WSU TE Nick Begg previously committed to ASU prior to signing with Washington State

• WSU P Jordan Dascalo attended Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High School, as did ASU QB Mike Bercovici

• WSU DB Jeff Farrar attended Upland (Calif.) High School, as did ASU S James Johnson

• WSU LB Greg Hoyd attended Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta High School, as did ASU QB Coltin Gerhart

• WSU LB Peyton Pelluer attended Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline High School, as did ASU S Jordan Simone

• WSU CB Marcellus Pippins attended El Cerrito (Calif.) High School, as did ASU’s D.J. Calhoun and Jalen Harvey

• WSU RB Gerard Wicks attended Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School, as did ASU LB Salamo Fiso

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