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A skilful quarterback is a necessity for success in the pass-happy Pac-10, and in Jason Gesser WSU has one of the best. Even though he ranks 3rd in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency, his 2,169 yards and 152.12 rating are impressive nonetheless. The senior has so far passed for 17 touchdowns, has been picked a handful of times, and is averaging 271 yards a game. Gesser is a masterful scrambler, and it's usually not done to avoid a sack – the Cougars' offensive line gives up the least sacks in the Pac-10. The fact that the Sun Devils are the conference leaders in sacks, sets up an intriguing match up that by itself will probably dictate the faith of both teams on Saturday. Ironically this potent offense is last in the Pac-10 in both red zone offense, and time of possession.
Not surprisingly, WSU's offense is ranked 2nd in the Pac-10 and ninth nationally. Gesser has a fine group of talented wideouts at his disposal. Leading that group is sophomore Devard Darling with eight touchdowns and 467 yards receiving. Senior Jerome Riley leads all receivers with 91.2 yards a game and 547 receiving yards. He has three touchdowns on the year, as does fellow classman Mike Bush who has 447 yards.
The running game for the Cougars nicely balances its arial attack. It averages 128.4 yards a game, and is ranked smack in the middle of the Pac-10. WSU has two junior rushers with five touchdowns: Jermaine Green and Jonathan Smith who have 442 and 237 yards respectively. Another notable rusher is senior John Tippins with 366 yards. Needless to say that these backs, as well as the rest of the backfield contribute significantly to team's success in protecting Gesser from would be pass rushers.
Defensively, Washington State holds it ground and doesn't put its offense in a hole. They are ranked fifth both against the run (102.4 yards a game) and against the pass (242). Terrell Suggs may be a few notches above any other pass rusher in the Pac-10, but junior Rein Long is right there tied for second place with 7.5 sacks, and fourth with 12.5 tackles for loss. ASU's offensive line hasn't done particularly well protecting their signal caller, and if that trend continues in Pullman Long could be in for a Suggs-like day. At linebacker, senior Mawuli Davis leads all linebackers with 49 tackles, which is good for second on the team. The Cougars are likely to suffer from the suspension of junior Ira Davis, who has 27 tackles on the season. WSU's leading tackler is junior safety Erik Coleman with 58. Another secondary standout is senior cornerback Marcus Trufant who's third in team tackles with 46. However, junior Jason David, the leader in conference interceptions (6) and passes defended (15), is out for the season as a result of an altercation with the suspended Davis. He will be replaced by sophomore Karl Paymah, who along with Trufant will try and stop ASU's signature high explosive passing game.
On special teams the Cougars rank pretty high on punt returns (4th), and slightly lower on kickoff returns (6th). Trufant is fourth best in the Pac-10 with 11.42 yards a punt return, and the team has no top 10 kickoff returner in the conference, but are 4th in kickoff coverage. With its 36 yards punting per game it stands sixth in the Pac-10. The Cougars are more of a disciplined team than ASU; ranking sixth in conference penalties as opposed to the Devils' ninth ranking.
Overall, this game shapes up to be much more even than the odds makers tend to think. ASU has proven that it can win in hostile environments, like Oregon, and the apparent lack of adverse weather in Pullman should only help Dirk Koetter's team. Nevertheless, it's beyond obvious that the Sun Devils will have to play their best game to date to achieve another monuments road victory, which will place them alone at top of the Pac-10, controlling their own Rose Bowl destiny.