Arizona State 101: A look at the Sun Devils

THE ROAD TO post-season play for Washington State goes through Tempe this weekend. But derailing the 7-2 Arizona State squad means shutting down one of the nation's top quarterbacks, <b>Andrew Walter</b>. Can the Cougs follow last week's upset of UCLA with another against Walter and the No. 20 ranked Sun Devils?

When: Saturday, November 13, 4:00 p.m.
Where: Sun Devil Stadium (74,000 capacity)
TV: Live on TBS
Last Meeting: 2003, WSU won 34-19
Line: ASU by 13
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 70F

THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Andrew Walter, QB: Walter is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in ASU history. He holds the Pac-10 record for career touchdown passes with 80 and is just 35 passing yards away from the 10,000-yard mark. He throws the ball a ton and defenses have come to orient their strategies entirely around stopping him. Nonetheless, he is averaging less than one interception per game.

Derek Hagen, WR: Walter has plenty of targets to choose from but Hagen is his favorite. He leads the team with 58 catches for 843 yards and eight TDs.

Rudy Burgess, RB: ASU's running back corps has been depleted by injuries and suspensions. Burgess has jumped in to fill the void. The 175-pound freshman played great last week, running for 186 yards against Stanford. WSU lost a heated recruiting battle with ASU for his services as receiver two years ago.

Overview: Since coach Dirk Koetter took over the ASU program in 2001, Walter has been his signature player. Now in their fourth and final campaign together, Koetter has the freedom to unleash even his most complex offensive strategies on Walter. Not surprisingly, the Sun Devils have become a heavily pass driven offense and the loss of their top four running backs has only added to the imbalance. They average around 300 passing yards per game, and just over 100 rushing yards on the ground.

Strategy: ASU surprised their opponent last week with an unexpectedly strong rushing performance, much the same way WSU did against UCLA. But the Cougs need to keep their minds focused on Walter. The Sun Devils have surrendered 30 sacks this year (only Oregon has given up more). Force Walter to throw from outside the pocket, and knock him down as much as possible. Maintain tight nickel coverage in the secondary. If Burgess manages another 180-yard rushing day, so be it.

"If we blitz (Walter) it's got to hit home," WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey told Cougfan.com. "And when we're in four man rushes we've got to get off our blocks."

THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Dale Robinson, LB: The JC transfer has made an immediate impact, leading the team in total tackles (71) and tackles for a loss (10). At 240 pounds, he has proven to be a fantastic run stopper.

Ishmael Thrower, DE: Thrower leads the Devils in sacks with 4.5 this year. While he is no Terrell Suggs, he is one of several solid pass rushers that have pushed ASU to second in the conference in total sacks this year.

Overview: ASU's experiment with the 4-2-5 defense over the past two years was a disaster. Koetter replaced the system with a simple and conservative 4-3 defense. The switch has achieved its goal of slowing offenses down a bit, but the ASU defense is still a weak link. After starting out the season air tight, the Devil defense has begun to spring leaks as the competition has improved. The Sun Devils have surrendered 36 points per game over the past four Pac-10 games.

Strategy: Attack! This group is solid, but should not be feared. They have no glaring strengths or weaknesses so the Cougs should strive for balance between running and passing plays as much as possible. The Cougar defense is good enough to keep Walter in check, but he should still put up plenty of points. So it's up to Cougar QB Alex Brink and RB Jerome Harrison to keep up the pace.

THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Sun Devils are solid on special teams, if somewhat unremarkable. Kicker Jesse Ainsworth leads the conference in field goals with 13, but has only converted on 68% of his attempts. Freshman punter Chris MacDonald maintains a respectable 42.7 yard average. ASU's kickoff coverage has been excellent, while Burgess has emerged as a strong kick returner.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: QB Josh Swogger (out for the year, broken foot), DE Matt Mullennix (out for the year, knee), Aaron Johnson (out, knee sprain), TE Cody Boyd (probable, shoulder), LB Brian Winter (out, leg), LB Brian Hall (out, stinger), TE Troy Bienemann (probable, shin). ASU: RB Loren Wade (out, suspension), RB Randy Hill (out, ACL tear), RB Cornell Candidate (out, groin), RB Hakim Hill (questionable, ankle), S Josh Barrett (doubtful, shoulder dislocation).

FINAL THOUGHTS
This will be an emotionally charged game for the Sun Devils: It's Pat Tillman day, Senior Day, and the final home game for Walter. It's unfortunate that WSU will be playing the role of spoiler. No player on the ASU roster has ever beaten the Cougars and neither has Koetter. They will be hungry for a win on Saturday. The Cougars have done a good job rebounding from the USC game but they need to continue to show dominant play on the line of scrimmage. After last week, WSU's best offensive weapons actually are tackles Sam Lightbody and Calvin Armstrong. If the Cougars can contain ASU's passing game and maintain a balanced offensive game plan in their own right, they could manage another upset.


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