Happy Football Friday on a Thursday, Followers. Hope you’re having a terrific week.
On Saturday, our Washington State Cougars will take on the venerable (and hopefully vulnerable) Arizona State Sun Devils in front of what will be a sold-out Dad’s weekend crowd in Martin Stadium.
At the start of the year, some national media pundits—including Kirk Herbstreit—considered ASU to be contender for the National Title. This potential was justified based on ASU’s returning offensive talent as well as Head Coach Todd Graham’s claim that this ASU team was far and away the best one that he has ever coached. Of course, Mike Leach said the same thing about this year’s Cougars, so it was quite curious when ASU went out and got stomped by Texas A&M in the opener while our we dropped our opener in a stunner to Portland State….
Unfortunately for ASU, their struggles didn’t end there. They looked lackluster in wins against Cal Poly and New Mexico and then got bludgeoned at home to a USC team that was playing with a very, very sick head coach…
Since that time, ASU has gone a pedestrian 2-2, with impressive wins over UCLA and Colorado as well as a couple of tough, tough losses at Utah and to Oregon at home last week. The result is a 4-4 team that is every bit its record: They’ve shown that they are eminently beatable, but they’ve also showed that they have the skill and firepower to beat just about anybody in the country.
So, if you’re looking for any additional reason to be concerned, consider the following: Arizona State is averaging just under 40 points per game over the last four games, including the 18 point stinker they had on the road at Utah a couple of weeks back. In other words, while the Devils struggled offensively at the start of the season, they appear to have found a serious rhythm as of late. And their offensive productivity should be of GRAVE concern to Cougar fans across the globe….
One of the things that Cougar fans have been happy about—and rightfully so—has been the play of our defense. I mean, in both the 2013 and 2014 season, we allowed teams to score over 40 points five times. But so far this year, we have allowed a team to drop 40 or more on us only once—and that was the result of a very late Arizona score a couple of weeks ago.
And of course, last week, we saw our defense put in arguably its best performance of the Mike Leach era holding Stanford to 15 first downs and 312 yards of total offense.
But if we look at our season’s fortunes as a whole, a soft underbelly certainly remains. For example, we still haven’t been able to stop a quarterback who can run, and ASU’s quarterback Mike Bercovici, has already matched the number of explosive touchdown runs that his predecessor, Taylor Kelly, amassed all of last year. (And in case you forgot, Kelly cannibalized us in previous years!).
Moreover, when you look at our conference schedule to date, we have yet to face an offense that was anywhere near as dynamic as the one we are going to face on Saturday. I mean, consider that when we played them, CAL had a hurt running back, a suspect O-Line, and a quarterback that doesn’t move around very well; Oregon played a back-up quarterback who couldn’t throw; Oregon State can’t throw a lick; Arizona’s Randall can’t throw and Solomon somehow has forgotten how to run AND throw; and Kevin Hogan wasn’t able to get anything going through the air in that driving rain storm last week.
Unfortunately for us, Arizona State has no such problems. They rank third in conference play in total offense and rank fourth in both total rushing and passing. In other words, they’re VERY, VERY balanced and in many ways present the most potent offensive attack that we have seen so far this year ( IMO: Stanford has a better offense and is certainly much more powerful, but ASU’s offense is more dynamic and deceptive and poses greater match-up problems for us).
And on defense, well, ASU ranks dead last in pass defense—which makes me feel kind of good. But they’re also first in defending the run. The result is that they tend to put teams into 3rd and long and rank in the upper half of the league in 3rd down defense.
In other words, while Arizona State may not be the national title contender that folks thought they might be at the beginning of the year, they are still a very, very dangerous team. And if we give them extra possessions via turnovers and/or #specialforces mistakes, this team has the firepower to really take it to us.
This is a game to worry about, folks. In fact, I think we should all brace ourselves for the possibility that we could get run on Saturday if we come out flat or tight….
The Keys to Victory
Will Luke Falk Throw for Over 400 Yards? Yes, I think he’ll throw for 497.
Will WSU Rush for over 100 yards? No, I think we’ll rush for 94
Will we score 35 points or more? See below
Will we be +1 or better in turnover margin? No, but I think we’ll break even.
Arizona State has already played in some pretty amazing venues this season, including games in Houston against A&M, the Rose Bowl, and in front of the mighty MUSS—so there’s little chance that they’ll be thrown off by our crowd. In fact, I fully expect ASU to come out of the gate in this one and play with their hair on fire. (Cuz in many ways, this game IS their season.)
But ultimately, I think we’ll win this one for a couple of reasons. First, I am not sure that ASU’s blitz-krieg will hold up for an entire quarter against the Air Raid, let alone the entire game. And the fact that they have very few takeaways stands as testament that they’re just not very good on the back end of that defense. So, if our offensive line plays as competently as it did last week against the Trees, then Falk and company should be able to really light up the scoreboard early and often on Saturday (and they will need to!).
The second reason for my optimism concerns the defense’s recent elevated play at home. To be sure, this season has seen some mixed play out of our defense (the second halves against PSU and OSU, the first half against Wyoming), but it also true that we have been absolutely nails in the first half at home, with the Wyoming game standing as the lone exception. And with a sold-out, Dad’s weekend crowd, here’s to thinking that our defensive play is good enough to give us the early 10-14 point separation that we will need to win yet another shoot-out .
Cougs gain bowl eligibility FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THREE YEARS by beating ASU 48-38 setting up a huge game next week against UCLA who will be playing for first in the Pac-12 south.
Washington 27 Utah 17. Don’t look now, but the balance of power in the Pac-12 North may be suddenly (quietly) shifting to the Washington schools. I am starting to become a real believer in the Dawgs—maybe my faith will jinx them!
USC 37 Arizona 10. Hopefully, Arizona’s late season fold job won’t prohibit Rich Rod from leaving at season’s end. The guy can flat out coach—let’s get him the hell of out of the conference!
Oregon 41 CAL 34. CAL believes that this is the year they finally beat Oregon. Sounds familiar, right Washington?
Stanford 41 Colorado 10. WSU showed how Stanford can be beat, but Colorado doesn’t have the players to execute the same game plan. It’s gonna be blow-out city.
UCLA 35 Oregon State 3. Oregon State’s defense is starting to get a bit salty. Unfortunately for them, their quarterback situation is an absolute mess, and UCLA has no such problems.
And the big National game:
Alabama 27 LSU 24. LSU’s secondary is better than Alabama’s, but Bama’s front seven is much better than LSU’s. The result is that BAMA should have a much easier time running the football, even with Fournette in tow. This is a big game for Pac-12 fans, who need BAMA to beat LSU and for Ole Miss to keep on winning in order for Stanford or Utah to have a chance at making the final four.
That’s all the time I have for today. This is a big one, folks. Win this one, and the rest of the season is entirely on house money. So, let’s pull one out against a REALLY good and talented football team!
All for now. Go Cougs!