Arizona State 101: Air show on tap

AFTER A SOLID START, the Sun Devils are in just as much of a struggle to salvage a bowl game as are the Cougars. But despite the fact the Devils have lost three of their last four, they can be a force. All but one of ASU's losses came at the hands of a Top 25 team, and the offense remains as potent as any in the country. It will be up to Jerome Harrison and the Cougar offense to set a high-scoring tone, while the defense puts freshman signal caller Rudy Carpenter to the test.

THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:

Rudy Carpenter, QB: He got his first collegiate start last week after starting quarterback Sam Keller went down with a season-ending thumb injury. The freshman filled in admirably, throwing for more than 400 yards. Not especially big, but Carpenter is strong armed, fleet of foot, and deadly accurate.

Cougs (3-5) vs. Sun Devils (4-4)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium

TELEVISION:
None

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

THE LINE:
Devils by 2

THE SERIES:
ASU leads 17-12-2. The Devils won 45-28 last year in Tempe. The year before in Pullman it was WSU 34-19.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 41, Arizona State 38

Derek Hagan, WR: A dominating receiver and arguably the finest in the nation -- pro scouts have told coach Bill Doba he is easily the top receiver on the west coast -- Hagen owns virtually every ASU receiving record. This season he has 55 catches for 830 yards and 6 TDs. He needs just 13 more grabs to break the Pac-10 career receptions record.

Rudy Burgess, RB/WR: A versatile athlete who has been used as both a running back and receiver. Has 402 rushing yards, 354 receiving yards and leads the team with seven scores this season.

Overview: The Sun Devils run the ball in their spread offense just enough to keep defenses honest, but it is no secret that their lifeblood is the passing game. They average 515 yards of offense per game (5th best in the nation), with 378 yards coming through the air. The sheer number of pass attempts has caused them to give up a lot of sacks, but they don't give up the ball much. The offense is very efficient on 3rd and 4th downs and doesn't like to settle for field goals when they get in the red zone where they convert touchdowns an impressive 75 percent of the time. The offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and has featured nine different starters this season.

Strategy: Head coach Dirk Koetter's system appears to becoming just plug-and-play at quarterback. Carpenter takes over for Keller, who was recently replacing Andrew Walter. There has been no dropoff in production over that span. In fact, the quarterback ratings continue to rise with each successor. Carpenter's stats (204.5 rating, 79 percent completions, 8-to-1 Touchdown-Interception ratio) smell like an anomaly. No freshman has ever put up those kinds of numbers with consistency in Pac-10 play. The Cougars need to put a ton of pressure on Carpenter to prove his is indeed the real deal. They need to blitz frequently and keep Carpenter picking himself off the turf -- something that seems doable in light of ASU's injury woes in the OL. The Cougs can't leave the secondary exposed by over-committing to Hagan, because Burgess and WR Matt Hill have proven to be reliable targets.

THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:

Dale Robinson, MLB: The senior leads the team in tackles (78) and tackles for a loss (11).

Josh Golden, FS:Recently moved over from cornerback, Golden came up with a interception for a touchdown last week to go with seven tackles.

Overview: The group has a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. They are a veteran group and don't often make big mistakes. Still, they have struggled to make plays at key moments. They give up 29 points per game and don't do any one thing particularly well. Their run defense is poor (183 rushing yards per game). Penalties have plagued them most of the year, averaging nearly 83 yellow yards per game. Nonetheless, they have put in surprisingly strong efforts early in games, holding USC, Oregon, and Oregon State scoreless for most of the first halves.

Strategy: Trust the legs of Jerome Harrison. ASU has surrendered 206 rushing yards per game in Pac-10 play. Their defensive line is undersized (averaging only 259 pounds per lineman) and could struggle even if they commit to stopping the run game. Brink will have to make good decisions as ASU has generated turnovers when teams take too many chances against them. Get up on them early and don't let up, because they can score points quickly.

THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Jessie Ainsworth hasn't converted a field goal beyond 40 yards this season but has decent leg strength. Punter Chris MacDonald averages 42.3 yards per boot but has just a 29 yard net average (indicating low hang time) and has had four punts blocked this season. Most of their kickoffs land in the end zone, but their punt coverage is weak. Kick returner Terry Richardson is excellent.

INJURY REPORT
WSU:
LB Will Derting (knee), WR/PR Michael Bumpus (ankle), TE Jesse Taylor, (neck stinger), Marty Martin (concussion) are out; LB Jason Stripling (leg bruise) is probable; KR/CB Lorenzo Bursey (shoulder) is a game-time decision. ASU:
QB Sam Keller (out for year, thumb), OL Stephen Berg (out for year, knee), OL Zach Krula (out), OL Leo Talevou (probable), C Grayling Love (doubtful), TE Jamaal Lewis (questionable), OL Andrew Carnahan (probable, wrist)

FINAL THOUGHTS
This game is going to be a classic shootout. Both teams field potent offenses that try to protect fairly weak defenses. Since ASU needs two wins for a bowl and has contests at UCLA and Arizona remaining, they know this game is a must win. WSU either runs the table or stays home this Christmas so the Cougs will be jacked for a win as well. This is actually only ASU's third game away from Tempe this season and they struggled at Stanford two weeks ago. A frosty Pullman afternoon might be more of a home field advantage than the Devils anticipate. With less than 1,000 tickets remaining yesterday, Martin Stadium is expected to be at or near full capacity --- a crowd like the one on hand for the WSU-UCLA game could make difference, especially with a young quarterback.

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