(25) Arizona State (5-2) at Washington State (4-4)|
Thursday, October 31, 10:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: After breaking back into the Top 25, the Arizona State Sun Devils
will look to run over the Washington State Cougars when the two Pac-12 squads
collide at Martin Stadium.
The Sun Devils rose to as high as No 22 in the Top 25 in early October, but a
37-34 loss to Notre Dame sent them out. Since that loss the Sun Devils have
posted huge victories over Colorado (54-13) and then No. 20 Washington (53-24)
in consecutive games and are now once again in the national rankings. The
honor came despite the Sun Devils being off this past weekend as they sat idle
on their 5-2 overall record and 3-1 mark in league play. Thanks to a loss from
UCLA last Saturday, the Sun Devils are now in sole possession of first place
in the South Division of the conference as they continue the back half of the
"We're getting better each week. The guys are practicing harder than I've ever
seen and preparing more than I've ever seen. As long as we do our job and do
what we're coached to do, we're going to have a lot of success," Arizona State
quarterback Taylor Kelly said. "It's different this year. The guys are a lot
closer. It's going to be a great season. We just have to focus on Washington
State this week and be prepared."
The good news for Washington State is it has already surpassed its win total
from a year ago when it went 3-9. However at 1-3 in league play the Cougars
are still struggling to make an impact in the Pac-12. Perhaps it wasn't the
kind of impression that is felt in the standings but the Cougars certainly
made one with their aerial assault in a loss to Oregon last time out. In the
contest, Connor Halliday set an NCAA Division I record in passing attempts
(89), while completing 58, the second-highest single game total ever.
"I knew we'd thrown the ball a lot. I didn't know how many," Washington State
Mike Leach said. "I just want balance among the positions. I don't care if we
throw it or run. We'd like to have semblance of balance."
A repeat of last year's matchup between these squads may not be the ideal
outcome for a nationally televised contest. Arizona State blasted the Cougars,
46-7, thanks to four passing touchdowns from Kelly. The win pushed the Sun
Devils all-time series advantage to 24-13-2.
The Arizona State offense should just be called the Marion Grice show. Grice
has been an incredibly versatile running back for the Sun Devils and his
ability to find the end zone has been unmatched. Grice has rushed for 553
yards and has scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, while adding 302 yards and
six scores on 33 receptions. Grice's 18 total touchdowns are the most by a
single player in the country. Grice had 158 rushing yards against Washington,
making him the first player for Arizona State to eclipse the 100-yard mark
Grice isn't the only productive player for the Sun Devils, who rank second in
the Pac-12 in total offense (509.1 ypg). Kelly clearly has an important role
in the scheme, as he has thrown for 2,236 yards and 18 touchdowns on 62
percent passing this season. Kelly has been intercepted a bit too often
(seven) and his protection has not always been there as he has been sacked 15
times. However, Kelly can escape pressure as he showed against Washington,
rushing for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
The only thing missing from Arizona State's thorough beating of the Huskies
was a big game from Jaelen Strong. The Sun Devils' top wideout had just three
catches for seven yards. That is quite a dropoff for a player leading the team
in receptions (45) and yards (685), while adding four touchdowns. Strong had
100 yards in five straight games entering the contest. D.J. Foster (36
receptions, 390 yards, TD) and tight end Chris Coyle (18 receptions, 302
yards, three TDs) are also important pieces to the offensive puzzle.
The Sun Devils have been one of the more balanced teams in the Pac-12 as they
can play defense as well as they play offense. Arizona State is second in the
league in total yards allowed (349.3 ypg), with a real skill in slowing teams
down through the air. Three different players have at least two interceptions
for the Sun Devils, while Will Sutton (5.5 TFL), Carl Bradford (4.5 sacks) and
Davon Coleman (7.0 TFL) power a strong front seven.
Leach can say he wants balance all he wants but it is clear that Washington
State is not a team that is going to run much, if at all. The Cougars are
heavily reliant on the passing attack, as they average 373.1 yards through the
air, putting up 431.5 yards of total offense per week.
Halliday is not afraid to air it out, but that has sometimes been a
disadvantage. Though Halliday has already racked up 2,798 yards and 18
touchdowns, on a healthy 63.8 percent passing, he has also been picked off 17
times (most in the Pac-12). His record-setting effort against Oregon was a
stellar example, as he had 557 yards and four scores, but also turned the ball
over four times.
Halliday's favorite receiver this season has been Gabe Marks (59 receptions,
655 yards, five TDs), who had a record-setting game of his own against Oregon.
Marks hauled in 13 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort.
However, a team that passes the ball this much has plenty of opportunities for
other pass-catchers. Eight different players have at least 20 catches on the
season with Vince Mayle (21 receptions, 317 yards, five TDs) and Dominique
Williams (23 receptions, 376 yards, four TDs) the most dangerous.
Deone Bucannon is well on his way to all-conference honors for the Cougars as
the leader of their defense. Bucannon has accumulated a team-high 73 tackles
and also has four INTs. No other player on the team has more than 50 tackles,
although Damante Horton (31 tackles, four INTS) has managed to match Bucannon
as a ball hawk. In all, the Cougars are surrendering 440.4 yards and 29.9
points per game.
It is unlikely that Washington State will need to push Halliday to great
lengths again this week. However, against an Arizona State squad that is
incredibly deep on offense thanks to Grice and Kelly, matching scores may
become a necessity. If the Sun Devils' quick-strike ability can't be slowed by
the Cougars, expect another contest where Halliday is trying to throw
Washington State back into contention.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 48, Washington State 31
10/30 10:39:48 ET