Arizona State 101: Devils turning up the heat

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING, Saturday's televised matchup between WSU and Arizona State is one sided. Dennis Erickson's troops rate among the nation's top 25 in offense and defense, while the Cougs are 103rd (out of 119) in total D, and a respectable but not spectacular No. 44 in total offense. The game, though, is in Pullman. And the Cougs seem stoked in the face of criticism of their head coach.

Meanwhile, Dennis Erickson marches his fourth different program into the confines of Martin Stadium this Cougar Homecoming weekend with the Sun Devils 5-0, ranked No. 18 in the land and coming off their first Pac-10 victory in the state of California since 1999. Granted, it was at Stanford, but optimism in the desert continues to soar nonetheless.

Cougars (2-3) vs. Sun Devils (5-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
1 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
FSN National

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

THE LINE:
ASU by 9

LAST MEETING:
2006, WSU lost 47-14 in Tempe.

THE SERIES:
Arizona State leads all time 19-12-2.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 56, Sun Devils 52

THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Rudy Carpenter, QB: Dennis Erickson is reaping the benefits of former ASU coach Dirk Koetter's fatal decision to stick with Carpenter over Sam Keller in ‘06. After a rough go of it last year, Carpenter has returned to the ranks of the nations leaders in passing efficiency, completing 66 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns against 4 interceptions.

Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring, RBs: ASU has a pair of solid running backs, both averaging over 5 yards per carry. Torain is questionable this week with a hip pointer so Herring might have to carry the load. Neither is a featured receiver but both are capable in the open field or near the goal line.

Michael Jones, WR: The Sun Devils have a deep receiver corps headlined by the 6-4 Jones who has emerged as one of conference's top deep threats.

Overview
The Sun Devils had already operated a pass oriented offense so the transition to Erickson's spread system has been rapid. ASU uses the passing game to open the running lanes and looks to beat you deep if you bite on play action. Carpenter is lethal when throwing from the pocket, but can lose accuracy on the run. The offensive line is big and experienced but has had trouble with quicker pass rushers.

Strategy
ASU's specialty is passing and WSU has the one of the worst pass defenses in the nation through five games. Carpenter has to be licking his chops. If Torain is out, WSU will need to do whatever they can do ensure the Devils run the football. One potential strategy: Use nickel as the base formation and if the corners can't cover, use them in zone, or better yet blitz them to give the Cougar pass rush a little bit of a spark. Take chances up front to try generate some turnovers but above all, the Cougs must keep Jones and the receivers in front of the safeties.

THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Robert James, WLB: The Devils most experienced defender has also emerged as their top playmaker. James has two sacks, three picks, six tackles for a loss, and a team best 39 total tackles. Experience early in his career at safety is paying dividends in his pass defense.

Josh Barrett and Troy Nolan, Safeties: Desperation passing by opposing offenses has allowed both safeties ample time to play ball hawk. Nolan has a team high four picks.

Dexter Davis, DE: One of the conference's top young pass rushers, he has been a little quiet in his sophomore campaign but is still a threat. Overview
The Sun Devils' defense has been stiff this year, allowing only 65 points for a league leading 13 points per game. They've started slow, however, with 39 of those points coming in the first quarter. Part of the credit should go to the Devils' schedule. They have not played an offense ranked in the top 60 this season and they opened the Pac-10 slate against the conferences No. 9 and 10 ranked offenses. Nonetheless, they rank No. 12 against the run and No. 6 in pass efficiency defense. ASU operates from 4-3 formation.

Strategy
Start fast and pour it on. ASU has been unbeatable on paper but they haven't faced a passing offense anywhere near the caliber of WSU's. Spread them wide, threaten with the deep ball, and look for some seams to open up. The Sun Devil safeties are a known quantity, but nobody has effectively tested their depth cornerback yet.

THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAM
Arizona State is middle of the road in most special teams categories which means they are light years ahead of Washington State. Kicker Thomas Weber is a perfect ten for ten in field goals this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS
If the Cougar defense and special teams can muster even a marginal performance, games like this one become very winnable. A fast start is always desirable but it might be crucial this week given ASU's propensity to become more effective as the game goes along. Against their only common opponent SDSU, Washington State looked stronger offensively, winning 45-17, while ASU looked stronger defensively, winning 34-13. "Little" differences, like effective long snapping and deep route recognition, are proving to be the poison pill in WSU's system.

Michael Bumpus needs only 22 catches to pass Hugh Campbell's career record at WSU. Given how pass oriented WSU and college football in general have gotten in the past twenty years, it is really at testament to how great a player Campbell was in how long that record has stood.

Alex Brink needs just 276 passing yards and six touchdowns to break Jason Gesser's WSU career records in both categories. Regardless of the in-game circumstances, Brink deserves some applause for these accomplishments when they come.


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