Then, coming off a bye week and an impressive win at UW, the Sun Devils went out and got completely obliterated by Cal.
ASU will want to win thr game today and win it big. And trying too hard, and the errors that often come with that, could be key to their undoing. Injuries and a collective shaken confidence have presented WSU a unique opportunity to grab a Pac-10 road win, and against a team that features better talent than their 3-4 record would indicate.
THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE
Players to Know
Steven Threat, QB: ASU's interception happy QB suffered a concussion Saturday but looks to be ready to play – unless Dennis Erickson is playing possum. A 6-8 praying mantis, backup Brock Osweiler, has had back trouble. Recently demoted third-stringer Samson Szakacsy came into the Cal game as the backup – and a scenario where any of the three play today isn't hard to imagine. Both backups are mobile.
Deantre Lewis, RB: Not a true featured back, but the smallish Lewis was their most dynamic playmaker early in the season for ASU, and the Sun Devils are desperate to have him return to that form. He still is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 16.9 yards per catch.
Line play has prevented this year's offense from being as consistently potent as Erickson's spread has been known for in the past. The Devils have recently had trouble running the ball and protecting their QB. They've given up 19 sacks, and ASU quarterbacks have thrown 14 picks on the year.
Keep the pressure up on the QB. Don't let the Devils run the ball easily and keep those QB's on the run and uncomfortable. Force turnover-situations like your life depends upon it.
| Cougars (1-7) vs Sun Devils (3-4)|
AT A GLANCE
4:00 pm Pacific Time
Players to Know
Vontaze Burfict, LB: The all-everything Burfict has been the lone bright spot on the defense all year -- even he is showing frustration and immaturity, and racking up costly penalties. But from purely an ability standpoint, he is an NFL presence at the college level.
Outside of Burfict, this defensive group is really short on standout playmakers – but they are fully capable of playing great team defense. Injuries and suspensions haven't helped the cause. The Devils in their four losses haven't done any one thing badly, they've just lack clear strengths. Teams have run the ball pretty consistently against them -- though not overwhelmingly -- and the secondary has trouble coming up with timely stops.
The second half against Stanford was a revelation. The Cougs scored TDs on every drive but two and one of those was an interception in the Stanford redzone. For WSU, the key may be to get aggressive and stay aggressive by passing to set up the run -- leverage the receivers and take the rushing yards they set up. WSU, though, must avoid turnovers, and especially on any short, gimmicky plays. Jeff Tuel, along with some find quarterbacking play, will probably continue to throw an interception here and there. But he needs to ensure they are always worth the risk he takes.
THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAM
ASU's special teams were the only bright spot against Cal this past Saturday. They blocked a punt for a TD (although they did return the favor) and blocked an extra point attempt. Punter Trevor Hankins is second nationally in punting average at 48 yards per punt. Kicker Thomas Weber is a former Lou Groza winner.
- Two of ASU's wins came from sub-division opponents, meaning they have to win four of their last five conference games to make a bowl. It isn't going to happen, but the Devils may not believe it yet. ASU has lost 10 of their last 11 FBS games.
The Sun Devils know they have to win this game and build momentum doing it. They might be overly aggressive, they might press, it's just a question of whether it pays off for them or WSU makes them pay.
Tuel and the Cougar offense have some spark to their recent play, and the young defense is coming to believe more in itself. Only 3 of the last 19 WSU possessions have ended in punts (compared to 7 of 19 for the opponents).
Playing fearless and aggressive is working, and with nothing left to lose, it ought to continue to be the case today.
And just as soon as the Cougars get a game with an edge in turnovers, they will win that game. Book it. The question is, will it come today in Tempe.