Expect hellish fight with Koetter's Sun Devils

WE'VE BEEN down this sunny path before. Wins piling up. Lots of national attention. And a road trip to Tempe against a seemingly undermanned Sun Devil team coming up fast on the itinerary.

In 1989, the Cougars were 14-point favorites when they took six wins into Sun Devil Stadium for a chance to lock up a Freedom Bowl berth. They left on the short end of a wild one, 44-39.

In 1997, en route to their fabled march to Pasadena, the Cougars rallied from a 24-point deficit but fell hard with two fumble-causing sacks of Ryan Leaf late in the game and headed home with their lone defeat of the regular season, 44-31.

Here we are in 2001. And once again we have a late season battle between a Cougar team that has much at stake and an Arizona State squad yearning for respect.

The Cougars are 8-1 and ranked No. 9 in the latest BCS ratings. Two of their players, kicker Drew Dunning and safety Lamont Thompson, the reigning Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week, are up for national awards as the best players at their respective positions.

Two victories and an Oregon loss shy of winning their second Pac-10 title in five years, these are heady days on the Palouse.

The Devils, meanwhile, are 4-4 overall and 1-4 in conference play. They've lost three straight.

BUT THEY HAVE also played tough at home, downing San Diego State, San Jose State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Oregon State, and narrowly losing to Washington two weeks ago.

ASU has five other things going for them:

First, they've owned the Cougars of late -- WSU hasn't tasted victory against ASU since the Palouse Posse road in 1994.

Second, first-year head coach Dirk Koetter is no stranger to the Cougars. WSU accounted for exactly 20 percent of the 10 losses he had in his three seasons as head man at Boise State, but the Broncs played close both games.

Third, the Devils could very possibly have Jeff Krohn back at quarterback after losing him for much of last week's Oregon game with "concussion-like symptoms." The sophomore, a one-time walk on, is among the best young signal callers in the land, sporting a passing efficiency rating of 161.1 -- tops in the Pac-10 and seventh-best in the nation. He's thrown 18 TDs --- nine of them to Shaun McDonald -- and just five INTs.

Fourth, Cougar running back David Minnich's ailing knee causes big-time woes for the crimson O. Will he play this week? If he does, for how long? That's the question of the hour as Cougar fans struggle with the fact the hiccups their once-potent offense exhibited against Stanford four games ago haveturned into a full blown case of end-zone phobia the last two weeks. With ASU averaging 37 points per game, the Cougar O needs badly to start moving the ball consistently.

And fifth, the Devils are not favored. Add an underdog's mentality to the fact that a win Saturday and another against Arizona or UCLA to close the season would make them bowl eligible and you've got the recipe for a team full of fight and fury.

Krohn told the Arizona Republic that he views the Cougar game as a must-win. "It's kind of a pivotal time in our football program. I think we need to have a good showing and show we don't give up no matter what. This is going to be an intense week for us. We need a win just for the morale of the team. It's tough to lose three consecutive games and be at the bottom of the Pac-10 in terms of motivation to come and practice hard. If we get a win this week, I think it will carry over."

PLAYERS TO WATCH: In addition to Krohn and McDonald, senior tailback Delvon Flowers is one to watch. Against Oregon he scored three TDs while turning in his third 100-yard rushing game of the season. He burned Oregon State for 226 yards.

On defense, linebacker Solomon Bates and freshman safety Jason Shivers are true gamers, but defensive end Terrell Suggs is something special. Despite frequent double teams, he is second in the Pac-10 in sacks behind WSU's D.D. Acholonu with 10. Suggs is also second in the conference in tackles for loss at 16 and is tied for first in fumbles forced with four.

GAME TIME: 3:30 Pacific Time

TELEVISION: Live throughout most of the West. Check wsucougars.com for local listings. Barry Tompkins, Warren Moon (analyst) and John Jackson (sidelines) will be calling the action.

LAST YEAR: In Pullman, Jason Gesser connected with Marcus Williams on a 56-yard TD pass and two-point conversion to tie the game mid-way through the fourth quarter. Both teams missed field goals in the waning minutes. In overtime, Gesser was intercepted. ASU fumbled away a third-down field goal attempt but recovered the ball so tried a 41-yarder on fourth down. Mike Barth connected and the Devils won 23-20.

EVERGREEN CONNECTIONS: Both teams have assistant coaches familiar with the oppostion. First-year WSU tight ends coach Robin Plugrad spent six seasons at ASU under Bruce Snyder, and ASU assistant head coach Tom Osborne is a WSU graduate and former Cougar graduate assistant. Two Sun Devil sophomores, receiver Skyler Fulton and fullback Mike Karney, are Washington products. Fulton is from Olympia's Capital High and Karney from Kentwood High in Kent.

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