Washington State (2-8) at Arizona State (5-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 17, 3 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706) -- Tempe, Arizona. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: Washington State 1-4, Arizona State 3-2. Away Record: Washington State 1-4, Arizona State 2-3. Neutral Record: Washington State 0-0, Arizona State 0-0. Conference Record: Washington State 0-7, Arizona State 3-4. Series Record: Arizona State leads 23-13-2.
GAME NOTES: A reeling Arizona State squad will play host to a Washington State team that is experiencing some turmoil late in the season, when the Cougars land in Sun Devil Stadium for a Pac-12 matchup.
After star receiver Marquess Wilson left the team Washington State's roster became less talented. However it was the accusations of "abuse" by Wilson against the Cougars' coaching staff that may have really put a black mark on the squad. Head coach Mike Leach has since responded contrary to Wilson's accusations. Leach was fired from his head coaching job at Texas Tech in 2009 for similar allegations. All that turmoil is certainly not a help to a team that is just 2-8 overall this season and yet to win a conference game (0-7).
A promising beginning to the season has been washed away for Arizona State after the Sun Devils lost their fourth straight game last weekend at USC. The 38-21 defeat puts the Sun Devils at an even 5-5 overall this season. Arizona State had played solidly on defense through the first five games but has been torched during the losing streak. In the four losses, Arizona State has given up at least 36 points and 420 yards per game.
Arizona State leads the all-time series between these teams with a 23-13-2 record against Washington State. The Sun Devils have also won seven of the last eight meetings although last season Washington State pulled out a 37-27 win in Pullman fueled by a 494-yard, four-touchdown passing effort from Connor Halliday.
Losing Wilson, who still holds team leads in most receiving categories, would hurt just about any team but the Cougars offensive game plan makes his absence even more apparent. Under Leach, Washington State has almost entirely ignored the run in favor of the pass, part of Leach's Air Raid system. On the season Washington State is the worst rushing team in the nation (32.9 ypg) but is the sixth best passing team in the Pac-12 (337.5 ypg).
Connor Halliday got the majority of the snaps against UCLA and turned in a strong performance throwing for 330 yards and five touchdowns on 26-of-43 passing. Jeff Tuel also saw time in the game completing 11-of-14 passes for 127 yards. Leach has spent the entire season deciding on a permanent starter but at this point it doesn't seem like he will settle on either. Tuel is the superior passer in terms of completion percent (64.6) but has thrown for fewer yards and touchdowns. Halliday has thrown for 1,705 yards and 14 scores but has been intercepted 12 times. Neither has an advantage in the number of attempts with Tuel at 263 and Halliday at 258. Tuel is listed as probable for Saturday's game with a collarbone issue.
With Wilson out, Dominique Williams and Bobby Ratliff played much more prominent roles in the Washington State offense against the Bruins. Williams hauled in seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns while Ratliff finished with a game-high 123 yards. The pair have combined for only 44 receptions and 665 yards this season. Gave Marks (44 receptions, 528 yards) and Brett Bartolone (46 receptions, 360 yards, 4 TDs) are the more likely heirs to Wilson. Isiah Myers (37 receptions, 380 yards) is listed as questionable this weekend.
Sustained drives have been a killer for the Washington State defense. The Cougars have the second worst opponent third down conversion rate (47.0 percent) in the Pac-12 meaning that its defensive unit is often on the field for long stretches of time. With that type of defensive resistance Washington State is surrendering 427.5 yards of total offense per game while giving up an even 33 points a contest.
One stalwart on the defensive side of the ball has been Travis Long. The senior linebacker has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks with the second most sacks in the conference (9.5). Long has also been solid in pass defense with an interception and five passes defended. Speaking of play against the pass, Deone Bucannon has been stellar in the secondary with a team-leading 78 tackles and four interceptions.
Taylor Kelly played one of his worst games of the season for Arizona State in the loss to USC. The Sun Devil quarterback did complete 63.3 percent of his pass attempts (19-for-30) but finished with only 174 yards and was intercepted three times. It didn't help that he was sacked a season-high seven times. Kelly has really struggled during the Sun Devils' swoon with seven of his nine interceptions this season coming during the last four games. He has also threw for fewer than 200 yards in each contest including a season-low 93-yard showing against Oregon. Thanks to strong play early in the season, Kelly's numbers (2,335 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs) are still solid. Kelly is also a threat with his legs as he has picked up 374 yards rushing this season.
Arizona State's offense has really relied on its running backs to perform well in a variety of roles. For the third straight week running back Marion Grice finished with at least six receptions against USC while also rushing the ball five times. He finished with only 15 yards on those five carries but has rushed for 331 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Grice has 361 yards receiving this season and a team-high seven touchdowns. D.J. Foster has also been used in a number of ways with 393 yards on the ground and 473 yards (second on the team) through the air. Cameron Marshall has been more of a traditional back with 428 yards and six touchdowns rushing and only 12 receptions this season.
In terms of pass-catchers that do not normally line up in the backfield tight end Chris Coyle has been the primary option. He leads the team in receptions (48) and yards (586), while hauling in three touchdowns.
In the offensive driven Pac-12, Arizona State fits in well scoring 35.0 points per game while racking up 437 yards of total offense a game.
The Sun Devils are still one of the top defensive units in the conference this season, ranking second behind Stanford in total defense (344.7ypg). Quick strikes have been a bit of a weakness for the Sun Devil defense with the team allowing seven plays of 50 or more yards this season, which is tied for the second most in the Pac-12.
Brandon Magee leads the ASU defense this season. The linebacker paces the team with 83 tackles and has also recorded 5.5 sacks and recorded a pair of interceptions. The pass rush has been enhanced by the efforts of Will Sutton (10.5 sacks, leads Pac-12), Carl Bradford (8.5 sacks) and Chris Young (13.5 tackles for loss).
Perhaps Arizona State was not as defensively sound as it appeared in the first few weeks. However against a one-dimensional Washington State team that is without its best offensive weapon, the Sun Devils should be able to get back to their early success.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 38, Washington State 17
11/17 14:19:27 ET