Washington State Preview

Times have been tough in Pullman this fall for first-year Washington State head coach Paul Wulff and the struggling Cougars. Points haven't been easy to come by with an offense, and the defense? They recently set a Pac-10 record by allowing 502 points in a season already with three games still left to be played.

ASU enters Saturday's game as a 36-point favorite to win but last week's encouraging outings by the cellar-dwelling Washington schools has perhaps issued a warning to the Sun Devils that a win is never a sure thing despite appearances.

Last Week: After being shutout in two consecutive games, the Cougars were back on the scoreboard but eventually fell to Arizona 59-28.

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

2008 Record: 1-9, 0-7 Pac-10
Head Coach: Paul Wulff

OFFENSE
*Projected Starters

WR Jeshua Anderson, SO
WR Kevin Norrell, FR
LT Vaughn Lesuma, SR
LG Steven Ayers, RS-FR
C Kenny Alfred, JR
RG B.J. Guerra, RS-FR
RT Micah Hannam, SO
TE Ben Woodard, SR
WR Brandon Gibson, SR
QB Kevin Lopina, JR
RB Dwight Tardy, JR

Injuries have plagued the quarterback position as five different signal-callers have played under center this season. Season-ending injuries to Gary Rogers, who began the season as the starter, and Marshall Lobbestael forced the Cougars to burn the redshirt of freshman J.T. Levenseller earlier this month. Levenseller is now the backup to starter Kevin Lopina, a junior who has also missed time with a fractured vertebrae. Lopina has completed 55.9% of his passes this season while throwing 10 interceptions and no touchdowns.

An All-Pac-10 First Team selection in 2007, wide receiver Brandon Gibson is back for another season in the Palouse as he has caught a pass in 33 consecutive games. Gibson has three games left to own the school record outright for most career 100-plus yard games. He's currently tied at 11 with current wide receivers coach Mike Levenseller. This season, Gibson has tallied 587 yards and two touchdowns on 48 catches. Jeshua Anderson, an elusive pass-catcher with impressive speed, has added another pair of touchdowns. Although he has yet to score, tight end Ben Woodard is usually good for a catch or two each game.

Like Arizona State, the Cougars have struggled in establishing a consistent running game. Junior Dwight Tardy will get the start in the backfield this weekend. Tardy is the team's leading rusher with 326 yards and two scores on 91 carries. Tardy will share snaps with reserves Chantz Staden and Logwone Mitz. Together, Staden and Mitz give the Cougars a workable rotation behind Tardy. Both have scored two touchdowns a piece.

DEFENSE
*Projected Starters

DE Kevin Kooyman, JR
LT A'i Ahmu, SR
RT Toby20Turpin, SO
DE Matt Mullennix, SR
WLB Louis Bland, FR
MLB Greg Trent, SR
SLB Cory Evans, SR
SS Alfonso Jackson, SR
FS Xavier Hicks, JR
CB Romeo Pellum, SO
CB Tyrone Justin, RS-FR

Defending the run has been troublesome for the defense as they've allowed a Pac-10 worst 279.1 rushing yards per game. Defensive end Matt Mullenix tops all defensive linemen with 37 tackles. Mullenix and Kevin Kooyman, a starter at the other end spot, have combined for just one sack this season. Senior A'i Ahmu is the top tackle on the interior of the line. Ahmu, who has logged 29 stops and a sack, will team with sophomore Toby Turpin at tackle. Senior Matt Eichelberger, a 9-game starter this season, figures to log snaps as well. After emerging at linebacker a year ago, Andy Mattingly was moved to defensive end and has 34 stops, including 3.5 for a loss.

Middle linebacker Greg Trent leads the defense with 65 stops, including a team-best 9.5 tackles for loss. The senior has been a steady force with 34 consecutive starts under his belt and is already among the top tacklers in school history with 300 career tackles. Trent is flanked by senior Cory Evans and true freshman Louis Bland. Evans has just 12 tackles in seven games while Bland has collected 36 stops and an interception. Top reserves include Myron Beck and Kendrick Dunn.

The Cougar secondary is led by Xavier Hicks at free safety. The junior is the team's second leading tackler with 59 stops. Hicks has combined with strong safety Alfonso Jackson for nine pass breakups and two interceptions. Cornerbacks Romeo Pellum and Chima Nwachukwu have been targeted by opposing cornerbacks quite a bit this season. Pellum has a team-high 43 solo tackles. Tyrone Justin, who has three pass break-ups, is slated to start if his ankle injury cooperates.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Nico Grasu, SO
P Reid Forrest, SO

KOR Chantz Staden, JR
PR Chantz Staden, JR

Nico Grasu has connected on 5 of 8 field goal attempts this fall. The sophomore's longest field goal was a 47-yard make against UCLA. Sophomore punter Reid Forrest ranks 6th in the Pac-10 averaging 40.8 yards per punt. 7 of his 58 punts have been boomed for 50+ yards or more while 12 have been placed inside the 20-yard line.

Topping the team in all-purpose yardage is Chantz Staden. The junior running back handles both kickoff and punt return duties for the Cougars. Staden is averaging 22.6 yards per kick return while his longest return went for 65 yards. Staden has also collected 51 yards on 12 punt returns.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR ARIZONA STATE

1. Establish the Run: The Cougars have given up a whopping 48 rushing touchdowns and an average of 6.5 yards per carry to opponents. Perhaps this will mark the first time this season ASU can post solid numbers=2 0on the ground in back-to-back games.

2. Red-Zone Scoring: ASU's struggles to punch it in the end zone continued last week at Washington until the Sun Devils were able to expose the Husky defense in the second half. Providing there's better execution this week, ASU should be looking at a better clip this weekend as Wazzu has allowed 50 touchdowns inside the 20s this season, which puts them in last place as the Pac-10's worst red-zone defense overall.

3. Play with a Sense of Purpose: Given ASU's 3-6 record and no margin for error if they're going to qualify for a post-season bowl game, it would behoove the Sun Devils to treat this game just like any other important conference game. Throw the records out the window and put four solid quarters of football together before the bye-week leading up to the home finale against UCLA.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR WASHINGTON STATE

1. Find A Pass Rush: Rudy Carpenter and the ASU offense can be thrown out of synch when opponents bring the pressure. The question is if the Cougars can apply it consistently. The WSU defense has just seven sacks in ten games.

2. Eliminate the Penalties: Silly penalties have been costly for the Cougars this season. Only USC is averaging more penalty yardage per contest this season in the Pac-10 as WSU brings in a 77.3-yard average in penalties. The Trojans can often get away with excessive penalties due to the talent level they field, whereas the Cougars can't. More disciplined play would be a step in the right direction.

3. Force Turnovers: The lack of turnovers forced by the defense along with an offense prone to excessive turnovers has been a recipe for disaster in the Palouse. Currently, WSU has a conference-worst mark of a -22 turnover margin. Not only do quarterback Kevin Lopina and company need to protect the football better but the defense should be on their toes looking for takeaways.


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