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Arizona State 101: The WSU curse in Tempe

SUN DEVIL STADIUM has been cursed ground for Washington State. The Cougars have won only once there in nine tries over the last 20 years. And the games at ASU haven't been all that close, with the Devils winning those eight contests by 12 points or more. In 2016, WSU will come in firing on all cylinders. And the Cougs look to have the Devils outmatched ... but not if history has anything to say about it.

AT A GLANCE: Cougars (4-2) vs Sun Devils (5-2)

KICKOFF:
7:00 p.m. PT

WHERE:
Sun Devil Stadium (64,248)

TELEVISION:
Pac-12 Networks

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 7 points.

LAST MEETING:
Washington State won 38-24 in Pullman in 2015.

THE SERIES:
ASU leads 26-14-2.

MATT MOORE's PREDICTION:
Cougs 35, Sun Devils 23

THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE:
QB Manny Wilkins: Arizona State's quarterback situation is dire. Wilkins suffered a high ankle sprain three weeks ago. Freshman backup Brady White filled in against UCLA but was soon lost for the season to a leg injury. Third-stringer Bryce Perkins was lost to a neck injury in the preseason. Wilkins has been pressed back into service ahead of schedule and clearly did not have his mobility back against Colorado this past Saturday. He is a decent passer, but nowhere near as effective without the ability to run with the football.

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RBs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage: Richard and Ballage are elusive runners but tend to shy away from contact of late. The ASU coaches have asked them to take the pressure off the quarterbacks but they have not been able to deliver. The pair averaged 156 rushing yards per game over the first four tilts, but that average has plummeted to 65 hashes over the past three.

WR Tim White: Probably the most underrated receiver in the Pac-12 and beyond. He leads the Devils with 44 catches for 525 yards and holds the distinction of having the most receptions in college football without a touchdown catch.

Overview
Todd Graham has tried to mold his offense after Oregon -- but just like in Eugene, it doesn't work without a playmaking quarterback. Wilkins is a promising talent, but he is limited at the moment. Since his injury, ASU's offense has dropped from averaging 49 points per game to just 20.

Strategy
Colorado really exploited the situation, containing ASU's weak running game and putting a ton of pressure on Wilkins. The Sun Devils managed a mere seven first downs on the night and only 50 rushing yards. Wilkins was forced to throw on the run and was just 13-35 passing. From my chair, WSU will likely take the same approach.

Key Stat
3.5 yards per play: Over the past two weeks ASU offensive efficiency has imploded. UCLA and Colorado have top notch defenses, but the Sun Devils' embattled quarterbacks deserve much of the blame.

THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE:
DEVIL Koron Crump: A decent blitzer who plays a hybrid linebacker position. Crump has five sacks on the year.

BANDIT Marcus Ball – The Sun Devils have been truly awful against the pass but Ball, recently inserted at bandit safety, cannot be taken lightly.

Overview
It's so pronounced I have to say it again: ASU has the worst pass defense in college football. But they have also faced some top shelf quarterbacks. The Devils got shredded by Texas Tech and California's version of the Air Raid ... but ASU also won both of those games. So don't think they will be intimidated by Luke Falk and Co.  The key difference this time around is that the Sun Devil offense is more poorly equipped to compete in a shootout.

Strategy
The Cougars go from facing one of the best pass defenses in the conference last week vs. UCLA ... to its worst. I expect Falk to bounce back from a so-so outing last week and really explode in terms of production. The key is avoiding turnovers. Falk threw for 600 yards against the Devils in his last trip to Tempe, but four interceptions and two fumbles undermined all his efforts. Last year, he threw for 500 yards, but threw only one interception. ASU is blitzing less than last year but I expect ASU to bring a ton of pressure to try and force mistakes in this game. Falk needs to leverage their aggressiveness against them.

Key Stat
385 passing yards per game: ASU's defense gives up more passing yards per game than any team in college football, and by a margin of over 50 yards per game.

THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Zane Gonzales is the more prolific kicker in college football history. His is 19-for-20 on the season with a long of 59 yards.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
- I have to go back in time a little here with WSU vs. ASU on tap. The Cougars' bad luck in Tempe started in 1997. The Cougs were on a roll, winning seven straight and with the Rose Bowl in sight. Then a road trip to Tempe, where every ball bounced ASU's way, derailed what could have been a perfect season. WSU got to the Rose Bowl, but still, the ASU loss still stings.  It happened again in 2004. The Cougs were fresh off a victory over UCLA and trying to claw their way to a fourth consecutive bowl game when their hopes were dashed by a trip into Sun Devil Stadium. In 2006, the Cougs were already bowl eligible and coming off another dominant win over UCLA, but a 47-14 stomping by the Devils sent the Cougs into a tailspin that left them orphaned come bowl season. Road trips to ASU have been a semi-annual disaster for WSU over the past 20 years, and wins over UCLA always seem to herald the calm before the storm.

-The Sun Devil pass defense was the worst in the conference last year, and they have somehow gotten worse. They are young and simply devoid of any star player to rally around. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has been a friend and colleague of Graham since they were roommates in college. Graham has stuck by him when fans were calling for his head, but I don't see how he will be able to do it again this year.

-ASU is 25-6 at home under Todd Graham. Injuries or no injuries, Sun Devil Stadium has genuinely become one of the most difficult venues in the conference, and not just for the Cougs.

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