Cougars (5-3) vs Sun Devils (4-4)
AT A GLANCE
12:30 p.m. PT
Martin Stadium (32,952)
Fox Sports 1
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WSU by 2 1-2
ASU won 52-21 last year in Tempe.
Arizona leads 26-13-2.
Cougs 38, Sun Devils 33
THE DEVILS ON OFFENSE:
QB Mike Bercovicci: The senior has been efficient, but also unremarkable in 2015. He's completed 59 percent of his throws for 2,255 yards and 19 touchdowns. Bercovicci also has seven interceptions, but has an effective running threat he can rely on.
RB Demario Richard: Richard took over as the primary running back in place of D.J. Foster (who has been converted to more of a receiver roll). Richard, a sophomore, has 664 rushing yards and 10 combined touchdowns headed into Saturday.
ASU has an occasionally explosive offense, but lacks explosive playmakers -- it makes their production sporadic. They had 742 yards of offense last week against Oregon -- but just 257 the week before at Utah. The Sun Devils try to spread defenses out and probe the weak points, but the lack of dominant receivers limits their ability to exploit them.
This is yet another run dependent offense. The Devils can put up a ton of yards but nothing seems to work if the ground game isn't clicking. Bercovicci throws a good deep ball on vertical routes, but struggles with angle throws. As a result he throws the short pass laterally a good portion of the time. And after Hogan's performance last week, the Cougs can also expect Bercovicci to try and beat them regularly with his legs.
21 Fumbles: The Devils have been careless with the football, coughing it up nearly three times a game.
THE DEVILS ON DEFENSE:
Players to Know
Safety Jordan Simone: The former WSU walk on has made a name for himself in Tempe as a tackling machine and was all-conference honorable mention last season. But this season has been much tougher going. Simone is struggling in coverage against some of the conference's elite receivers.
LB Salamo Fiso: Fiso leads a very strong ASU linebacker corps. He is second on the team in tackles, but first in tackles for loss with 16.
ASU runs a blitz heavy 4-3 that lives and dies by the big play. They have generated 26 sacks and a whopping 76 tackles for loss this season. The linebackers are their heart and soul, disrupting the passing routes and harassing the quarterbacks into turnovers. Getting players out in space and with a little angle should pay many more dividends against this defense than was the case last year when Jamal Morrow (pictured above) and the Cougs met ASU last season.
This game will be about if Luke Falk has learned from last year's mistakes against ASU. Seams open up when the Devils send five or six pass rushers, but Falk has to identify them quickly. Overall, Falk actually played quite well last year despite the stat line - his five turnovers were ruinous, but he made a whole lot of good decisions apart from those (Falk completed 60 percent of his passes for 601 yards a year ago against ASU). Falk needs decent protection and if so, he should get the better of them this time. It wouldn't hurt if he was a little quicker at throwing the ball away as necessary either,
76 Tackles For Loss: The Devils charge the backfield and look to disrupt everything. But it is a high risk, high reward type of play. Indeed, ASU is always just a quick pass and broken tackle away from disaster.
THE DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Zane Gonzales had a disastrous week against the Ducks this past Saturday, missing three field goals and one kickoff that went out of bounds. He and the KO return defense followed that up with another kickoff that came back for a touchdown. Todd Graham's confidence in him may be temporary depending on how the game unfolds. On the other side of the ball, Tim White is a very dangerous kick returner who deserves as much respect as the Cougs gave McCaffrey last week.
-Last week was a gut punch for both teams but I think it may have hit the Devils harder than the Cougs. WSU knew it was the upstart in this affair, but the Devils were considered major contenders in the South before the season and if WSU beats them, they become what they considered unthinkable at the start of the season - a team under .500 and having to win two of their last three just to become bowl eligible. ASU entered the season ranked No. 15 nationally in the polls and may have problems responding to adversity if the Cougs can jump on them eatly. They have now lost three games in five weeks.
-Nonetheless, and arguing for them: this is a senior Sun Devil led team who got an extra two days rest to prepare this week. So long as they didn't spend it sulking, the Cougs should expect another big fight.