The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Sun Devils

ON PAPER, the task of WSU traveling to Tempe and knocking off No. 13 Arizona State looks challenging indeed. But Cougar Nation probably breathed a sigh of relief – or maybe it’s exasperation – that this game is on the road. Because frankly, the Cougs’ chances in recent years seem to rise when they play outside the friendly confines of Martin Stadium (or, occasionally, Century Link Field).

During Mike Leach’s three-year tenure, Washington State is 2-11 in Pac-12 home games, and 5-7 on the road.

Think about it: many good Pac-12 teams go 5-7 on the road during a three-year period. But 2-11 at home?

It goes beyond the record, too. Of those 11 home losses, over half weren’t competitive. It’s hard to ask Cougar fans to open their wallets wide when the home team is getting pummeled on a regular basis.

And yet, we know this team can play. It happens on the road on a regular basis. There have been wins over USC and Arizona and Utah. Of the seven road losses, four were highly competitive.

This year is more of the same. Washington State is 2-1 in Pac-12 road games with wins over Utah and Oregon State, and the one loss was a decent effort at Stanford. Meanwhile, the Cougars are 0-4 at home in conference games, including blowout losses to Arizona and USC.

So when it comes to looking in the mirror this offseason, let’s hope there is a reflection somewhere of Martin Stadium.

Washington State (3-7, 2-5) at No. 13 Arizona State (8-2, 5-2)

The kickoff: 10 a.m. Saturday PST, Sun Devil Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Network

The line: Sun Devils by 16 1/2

The series: Sun Devils lead 25-12-2

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About Arizona State: Saturday’s 35-27 win by Oregon State over the Sun Devils says the Cougs have a great chance at ASU, seeing as WSU just beat the Beavers, right?

Not so fast. Maybe a week off and the confidence the Cougars generated from the win at Corvallis plays a big role Saturday, but they won’t have the same advantages afforded Oregon State.

The Beavers don’t run the ball well, but they attempt to run the ball. Against Arizona State, that’s a plus, because the Sun Devils are dreadful in defending the run. In the Pac-12, only Colorado is worse than ASU, and not by much. Oregon State gashed the Sun Devils, running for two long touchdowns and accumulating 247 rushing yards.

Unless Washington State does an about face and decides to hitch its offensive wagon to the running game, the Cougs won’t fully be able to take advantage of that Arizona State weakness.

Oregon State also preyed on an Arizona State team that may have mentally taken the week off. The Sun Devils were coming off a program-changing win over Notre Dame. ASU spent the week basking in the glow of media attention and the possibility of gaining entrance into the four-team college football playoff. ASU also looked completely miserable at the start of the OSU game, and at various points throughout, with the temperature hovering around 28 degrees. The forecast for Saturday in Tempe calls for sunshine and 70 degree temps.

Washington State won’t see that ASU team Saturday, as the Sun Devils have gone from honored to humbled. The Sun Devils might be without two of their best players, as safety Jordan Simone and receiver Jaelen Strong sustained second-half injuries against Oregon State and didn’t return. ASU coach Todd Graham didn’t have an update on their status Sunday for local reporters.

Offensively, the Cougars had better be ready to protect Luke Falk, because Arizona State’s defense thrives on the blitz. The Sun Devils generally blitz more than 50 percent of plays, and combined with a solid defensive front, it’s effective against the pass. In the Pac-12, the Sun Devils ranks second in pass defense and fourth in sacks.

Look out for beasts up front like linebackers Salamo Fiso (8½ tackles for loss), Laiu Moekiola (five sacks) and defensive tackle Marcus Hardison (eight sacks). If Simone doesn’t play, that’s a big loss, as he is the Sun Devils leading tackler. Another safety, Damarious Randall often gets in the mix, with 84 tackles and 7½ tackles for loss.

Washington State is well acquainted with ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who passed for five touchdowns and ran for two scores in last year’s romp over the Cougs. Kelly, who missed three games due to injury, has passed for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

Kelly may have to improvise a bit if Strong can’t play. Strong is ASU’s top receiver with 71 catches for 982 yards and nine touchdowns. Other targets to watch are D.J Foster (47 catches, 527 yards) and Cameron Smith (28-410). Foster is ASU’s top running back with 872 ground yards and six touchdowns.

Last year: As mentioned above, Kelly was dynamite in ASU’s 55-21 win in Pullman, as he accounted for seven touchdowns and 331 offensive yards. The Sun Devils led 21-0 before the game was 12 minutes old, and never looked back. Arizona State had the game in hand before halftime, as Kelly threw three second-quarter passes to increase the Sun Devils lead to 42-7.

Familiar faces: Simone, of Sammamish, is the Sun Devils lone Washingtonian on the roster. He walked on at ASU and eventually earned a scholarship and starting role. As for coaches, co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball had two previous stints at Washington State, including defensive coordinator under Paul Wulff. Graduate assistant Aaron Pflugrad is the son of former WSU coach and CF.C contributor Robin Pflugrad.

Notable note: Recent trips to Tempe have not been kind to Washington State. The Cougars have lost their past four road games at ASU by a collective score of 166-21. Two of the four games were shutouts.

Another chilling stat: During the past 11 seasons, Arizona State is a combined 16-1 against the Cougars and Huskies.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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