ASU 101: An opportunity for the Cougs

OH HOW THINGS have changed for ASU this season. They were picked to finish in second place in the conference by the Pac-10 media. They were ranked No. 15 in the AP poll and had a high-water mark of No. 13 in the Coaches' poll. With the Cougs coming to town, their record sits at 3-6 and they have to win out to become bowl eligible. Can the Cougs pull off the upset?

Given the Cougs' level of progress this season, it could prove a difficult task -- they played better last week, but they were also still nowhere close on the scoreboard at game's end.

Meanwhile, ASU snapped a six game losing streak against the Huskies last week and are making their last gasp run at a possible bowl game. But for the first time in months, the Devils looked more like the team that was expected to challenge for a Pac-10 title.

Their offense hummed with at least some of that long absent precision and while Washington State scored more points than they had all season last week against 'Zona -- 28 -- they were still beaten soundly.

But a little belief can also be a powerful thing.

THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Rudy Carpenter, RB: Its amazing a quarterback with over 10,000 career passing yards and 77 touchdowns is going to be remembered by many for being a bust as a senior. After leading the Sun Devils to bowls in his first three seasons, Carpenter and the Devils imploded in his final campaign and made the pollsters and prognosticators look out to lunch. It hasn't all been Carpenter's fault -- a lack of playmakers and a porous offensive line left him with limited passing options. At the same time, Carpenter has looked erratic and panicked at times.

Keegan Herring and Shaun Dewitty, RB: ASU has had back to back 100 yard rushers the last two games after not having one not go over the century mark all year beforehand. That second dimension sparked an offense which had been more or less dormant since Week 2.

Mike Jones, WR: Carpenter has limited receiving options but his favorite target is the lanky Jones. He leads the team with 50 catches for 653 yards.

Overview
The Sun Devil offensive line has completely destroyed this season the foundation of one of the conference's top offenses. Simply put, the Devils have been unable to run the ball or protect Carpenter, which has limited the play calling options for Erickson. The passing game still drives the offense, but the deep ball hasn't been there like last year.

Strategy
The Cougars are allowing a porous 280 rushing yards per game. ASU has the nation's 109th ranked rushing offense. Something will give. If the Devils run the ball effectively against the Cougs, it's another long day. But Carpenter can be held in check if he has no run support and things could get interesting if WSU gets some early confidence.

Cougars (1-8) vs Sun Devils (3-6)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Sun Devil Stadium Stadium (72,000)

TELEVISION:
None

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

THE LINE:
ASU by 36.5

LAST MEETING:
ASU won last year 23-20

THE SERIES:
ASU leads 20-12-2

CF.C PREDICTION:
More improvement. More points. More upsets. More of everything! Cougars 29, Sun Devils 1

THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Dexter Davis, DE: ASU has a tradition of great pass rushing ends, and Davis has looked dominant at times with three multi-sack games this season. But ASU has generated no pressure from anyone else.

Troy Nolan, S: Nolan is the defensive captain and leads the team with five picks.

Overview
This is a very average 4-3 defense. They have done a good job keeping the scores within reason, but haven't exactly set up the offense in good situations. Expect Erickson to turn up the pressure a notch to try and put Davis and Nolan in a position to make big plays.

Strategy
Hold on to the football. WSU is among the worst at turning the ball over this season but when they don't hand it over, they've been moving the ball better of late and finding the end zone. WSU needs to run the football until ASU stops it, mix in some trickeration if ASU gets lazy, and take what the ASU defense gives them -- the Cougs and Kevin Lopina have gotten in trouble when they try to force it when it's not there. Obviously, ASU knows this and will stack the line and invite Lopina to throw all day. One possible option, if the Cougs do feel bold, is to show run then hit a quick lob over the top to a tight end or receiver.

THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Sophomore kicker Thomas Weber was last year's Groza Award winner, missing only one field goal in the 2007 campaign. He hasn't been so automatic this season, making only 2 of 5 beyond 40 yards. Weber is also the punter and has had two blocked this season.

FINAL THOUGHTS
It's hard to believe that any team has had a more disappointing season than WSU but remember that ASU ranked No. 15 and No. 13 in the polls this season -- A 3-6 start wasn't exactly the encore anticipated for last season's Pac-10 co-champs and if Washington State stays mentally stronger than ASU and finds some early success, this Saturday might just be their best chance to pull off the upset to date. But if they instead make more foolish turnovers, or if they start hanging their heads, it's going to be one more long Saturday. Paul Wulff said the Cougs have had a very good week of practice, and it's time for the Cougs to translate that over to the field on game day.


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