The Dirty Dozen of Cougs vs. Devils

COUGAR FANS HAVE never been shy about downing a few cold ones to celebrate Homecoming. And good thing. A stiff drink might come in handy Saturday. The Cougars, in dire need of a win, had the misfortune to schedule unbeaten, 18th-ranked Arizona State for Homecoming.

It's a given that Dennis Erickson teams will always be explosive on offense, but the Sun Devils have been surprisingly sharp on defense. Mind you, ASU's schedule has been softer than a sports writer's belly.

NUMBERS & OPINION

When Dennis the Menace pulled a hamstring sprinting out of Moscow after spending a whole 10 months working on his (alleged) plan to stay at Idaho until he retired, he must have done so with an eye on 2007 schedules. Not only did Erickson dodge Idaho's season-opening suicide mission at USC, but the Sun Devils opened the season with four -- count 'em, four -- home games.

Considering that WSU has played one -- count it, one -- home game, that's not a bad deal.

The Cougars need a whole lot more than the friendly confines of Martin Stadium to win Saturday. WSU might have as many as four new starters on defense, and if these guys have been deemed inferior to others on one of the most charitable defenses in school history … well, it could make for a long, long afternoon.

Some advice? Bring plenty of ice for the cooler. You might need it for your head as well as your drinks.

And while we're on the subject of things that give you headaches -- here's the weekly Dirty Dozen.

1. View From Pullman:
Blustery. The Sun Devils made the WSU defense look foolish last year in Tempe, and this defense is far worse than the 2006 version. ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter was struggling last season until the Cougars came to town. The Cougars cured what ailed Carpenter by letting him throw for 339 yards and three touchdowns. WSU opponents are averaging 290 yards and three TD's via airmail this season, and it's possible none of those quarterbacks are as good as Carpenter.

2. View from Tempe:
Sunny. Say what you will about Erickson's incredible lack of loyalty to his employers, but the man can win college football games. The NFL, now that's another matter.

3. Scouting Report:
Arizona State's defense has all sorts of glossy statistics -- like allowing just 13 points a game, which ranks sixth in the nation -- but the Sun Devils haven't faced an offense anywhere nearly as potent as that of WSU. Oregon State's underwhelming offense scored 32 points at Arizona State, so it says here the Cougars should be good for at least 35 at home. The scary thing is, that might not be enough to win. Perhaps the return of defensive end Lance Broadus to the starting lineup will finally give the Cougars something resembling a pass rush. That would certainly help those young cornerbacks against an ASU team that loves to throw the deep ball.

4. Betcha Didn't Know:
Defensive line coach Grady Stretz is the only one of ASU's nine full-time assistant coaches who did not coach (and, in some cases, also play) for Erickson at his countless stops on the coaching merry-go-round. Most of the assistants played and/or coached at Idaho and/or WSU, including Craig Bray (the husband of former WSU volleyball coach Kaprice Bray), Rich Olson (a former WSU quarterback) and Gregg Smith (an Erickson assistant for 25 years). Jamie Christian is Erickson's nephew, and Erickson's son, Bryce, is a graduate assistant.

5. The Rankings:
FOXSports.com ranks Arizona State eighth; quite a jump from 18th in The Associated Press media poll and 19th in the USA Today coaches poll. FOXSports ranks WSU 58th among 119 teams in the NCAA Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).

6. Cougar Trivia Department:
WSU is dead last -- 119th out of 119 teams -- in average yards per punt return (1.4). The Cougars have one of the greatest punt returners in school history in Michael Bumpus, but WSU hasn't returned a punt in two games. In fact, the Cougars went six straight quarters without forcing rivals to punt until Arizona had to boot one in the third quarter last week. Consider this: If the 6-foot Bumpus tipped over after fielding the next punt and fell flat on his face with the tip of the ball even with the top of his head, he'd improve WSU's season average on punt returns.

7. Sun Devil Trivia Department:
Michael Jones, ASU's leading receiver, went to the College World Series with the Sun Devil baseball team this year. The fleet center fielder was drafted in the 42nd round by the Chicago White Sox in June.

8. Alumni Hall:
Former Devil athletes include Reggie Jackson; all-time major league home run leader Barry "I Can't Explain Why My Head Is The Same Size As Pluto" Bonds; and the late Pat Tillman, who played in the NFL before giving up potential millions in pro football to serve in the military.

9. Cougar Talk:
Bumpus, who questioned the effort of some WSU players on special teams last year and earlier this fall: "The desire is definitely there. I know I've seen a difference in effort."

10. Sun Devil talk:
"Coming to Pullman and playing is difficult. Homecoming, great students, great crowd, noise, all those things," says Erickson. "It's hard. I enjoyed it when I was a coach there. I know Coach Doba and that coaching staff; they do a great job."

11. Opinion Of The Week:
The chances of an offensive line coach on a losing team winning the national assistant football coach of the year award is only slightly more likely than O.J. finding the real killer (the creep must not own a mirror). Still, the work of George Yarno has been remarkable. Observers at WSU's first fall practices wondered aloud if the Cougar offensive line would be able to block a front four of crippled nuns. Yarno has molded that line into a rock-solid unit with his unique blend of tough love, knowledge and inspiration.

12. And Your Final Score Is:
Arizona State 45, Washington State 38.


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