WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 15, 12:30 PST
WHERE: Martin Stadium
TV: Live on ABC
ASU has dropped six of its last eight contests and is currently tied for last place with rival Arizona in the Pac-10 standings. Things hit rock bottom last week when they lost to a Stanford team that outscored them 28-7 in the first half. Injury problems and a lack of senior leadership have contributed to the Devils woes but in truth there is no reason why this team should not be winning. The blame is therefore falling squarely on coach Dirk Koetter, who is now a Bruce Snyder like 16-19 in three years at the helm.
Washington State is coming off a huge win over UCLA in which they played quite poorly on offense but still won with relative ease. This served to really re-inflate a team that some feared may have lost their confidence amidst a dispiriting defeat at USC and the apparent loss of its starting quarterback.
THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE
Overview: Offensively the Sun Devils aren't that different from WSU, they are a fairly dangerous spread passing team whose running game tends to disappear from time to time. The difference has been that ASU's offense hasn't been the beneficiaries of good field position the way WSU's has. As a result, yards don't always equate to points for Koetter's crew. Injuries have left the Sun Devils thin on running backs so they may try passing the ball even more than normal. They threw 51 passes against Stanford.
Strategy: Andrew Walter hasn't exactly shined in his junior campaign but he is still a force to be reckoned with. The WSU secondary needs to keep receivers contained and avoid missed tackles that may spark the ASU offense back to life. This team has plenty of firepower when it gets clicking. As mobility is an issue for Walter (tender ankle), WSU's pass rush could come up big if they start blitzing.
Players to Know: Andrew Walter, QB: The former Heisman candidate has been one of the bigger disappointments of the 2003 season. He has still thrown for 2500 yards and 20 touchdowns but his passes have appeared less accurate this year and ankle injuries have limited his mobility. Part of his problem is that ASU is relatively weak at the skill positions. His receivers have had trouble getting open and the running backs have been really banged up.
Derek Hagen, WR: It took almost half the season, but Walter eventually found a favorite target in the sophomore Hagen. Hagen has almost 600 receiving yards in the past six games and looks like one of the few players that won't give up on a lost season.
Skyler Fulton, WR: Fulton has been a solid possession receiver all year but hasn't filled the void left by Shaun McDonald's early departure to the NFL. He leads ASU with 53 catches and 9 receiving touchdowns.
Loren Wade, RB: Wade has been ASU's best rushing threat with 653 yards and an impressive 5.5 average per carry. But a nasty concussion in last week's contest has him listed as questionable this week. To make matters worse, ASU's second leading rusher, Hakim Hill, is also listed as questionable with a knee injury. If neither can go, freshman third stringer Randy Hill is next in line.
THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE
Overview: ASU ranks above only Arizona in most defensive categories. They run a 4-2-5 defense that is designed to stop the pass but hasn't been particularly effective at stopping anything this year. The underlying problem may simply be a lack of experience. ASU's defense has only three senior starters and the young men filling the slots haven't emerged as playmakers. Their biggest problem in 2003 has been run stopping. They are massively undersized and try to rely on speed to make up for it, but as a whole they continue to get pushed around up front.
Strategy: ASU needs to make some defensive adjustments badly but 11 straight games without a bye has made changes very difficult to implement. As a result, WSU can expect to capitalize on many of the same problems that have plagued ASU all year. The Sun Devils surrender a league worst 3.9 per carry and almost 160 rushing yards per game so WSU should try to support penciled-in starting quarterback Josh Swogger by running the ball frequently. If the running game isn't getting the job done Swogger should resist the urge to try and win the game on his own. Last week he was taking way too many chances with the football, forcing throws and holding it in a haphazard manner in the pocket. He needs to recognize that his defense will win the game if he just waits for them to provide the opportunities. To that end, ASU has the league's worst red zone defense so we should be able to put points on the board if the game plays out on their end of the field.
Players to Know:
Jason Shivers, FS: Shivers ranks second in the conference in tackles with 86, but much of this has been because ASU is so weak against the run and he has been making tackles that should have been made by a linebacker. At 186-pounds, Shivers isn't the most intimidating defender but he has the speed to chase down ball carriers.
Jimmy Verdon, DE: Verdon was given the enormous task of replacing Terrell Suggs as ASU's best pass rusher. He hasn't succeeded. He has managed just 3 sacks this year and as a result ASU has had to run a ton of safety blitzes to get pressure on the quarterback.
Riccardo Stewart, S: Stewart ranks second on the team in tackles with 76. He is similar to the other two Sun Devil safeties but packs a bit more punch.
Shane Jones, DT: Jones is ASU's best run stopper up front if for no other reason than he is the only one of any significant size. At 286-pounds he is the heaviest member of the Sun Devil defense by over 30 pounds! He has eight tackles for a loss so far this year.
Jamar Williams, LB: The sophomore Williams is one of the youngest players on the ASU defense and has been caught taking bad angles on the ball all year. He needs to step up and have a big game if the Sun Devils expect to keep WSU running backs contained.
THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Freshman kicker Jesse Ainsworth has been accurate on short range field goals but isn't very useful outside of 40 yards. Unless ASU is already in the red zone, don't expect them attempt kicks on fourth down. Punter Tim Parker has a virtually identical average to Cougar kicker Kyle Basler so don't expect either team to gain any major advantage through the punting game. Josh Golden and Darryl Lightfoot are two of the best kick returners in the Pac-10.
Koetter hates Washington State. From his tenure at both ASU and Boise State he has a lifetime 0-4 record against the Cougars. There is a good possibility he was over looking Stanford and will have his team more focused this week. But you have to question how much fight is left in his troops. After losing three straight and looking more sloppy with each outing, Koetter's program is unraveling fast. A cold Pullman afternoon and a brutal WSU defense are unlikely to help either. But the underlying issue here is ASU's lack of size on defense. Will they continue to get pushed around up front or is their speedy nickel defense exactly what is needed to defeat an inexperienced freshman quarterback?