GAME NOTES: Following a heartbreaking loss to Oregon State last weekend, the
13th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils will try to avoid another upset on
Saturday when they host the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-12 Conference
clash at Sun Devil Stadium.
Oregon State also was the last team the Cougars faced, although they did so on
Nov. 8, producing a 39-32 victory in the contest. The win ended a four-game
losing streak for the Cougars, who are just 3-7 on the season, including a 2-5
mark against the rest of the conference. The hope is that an extra week off
will put them in position to knock off the Sun Devils.
There was a ground swell of playoff hopes for Arizona State entering last
weekend following a 55-31 win over Notre Dame. The Sun Devils’ let those good
feelings slip away, however, falling in a 35-27 final when OSU’s Michael
Doctor picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for the winning touchdown.
The Sun Devils are still in the Pac-12 title race, as they are tied with UCLA
and Arizona for second place in the South Division (5-2), but the loss to
Oregon State likely ended their brief thoughts of playing for the national
“They came out with the energy and the enthusiasm,” Arizona State head coach
Todd Graham said of Oregon State, although he is not ready to throw in the
towel just yet. “That’s our job to get them prepared. We did a poor job. I did
a poor job of preparing them to play. So it’s very frustrating for us because
we’ve come a long way. I’m just as proud of our guys right now as I was last
Arizona has recent history on its side in this contest, having won four of the
last five games against Washington State. The Sun Devils also lead the all-
time series, 25-13-2, which includes a 55-21 rout in Pullman last season.
Luke Falk made his first start under center for Washington State against
Oregon State, following a devastating injury to Connor Halliday in the
previous game. Falk had a lot to live up to, with Halliday the nation’s leader
in passing yards (3,873). To his credit, Falk did an incredible job, throwing
for 471 yards and five touchdowns on 44-of-61 passing.
“He played real controlled and calm and I think especially with the
transition, I think that it calms our offense and our team as a whole,”
Washington State head coach Mike Leach said of Falk’s effort. “Because a lot
of times, just the dynamic of the change, will stir people up a little bit. He
has calmness about him on the field with his demeanor, which I think was very
positive and made the transition pretty seamless.”
Falk will need to continue to hurl the ball all over the yard as passing is
priority one, two, three, four and five for Leach. The Cougars lead the
country in passing offense (477.6 ypg), and they are the only team to average
more than 370 yards per game through the air.
Falk is lucky to have a diverse and long list of receivers to choose from.
Vince Mayle (86 yards, 1,152 yards, nine TDs) is obviously the top target, but
Isiah Myers (68 receptions, 795 yards, 11 TDs), River Cracraft (59 receptions,
698 yards, seven TDs) and Dominique Williams (35 receptions, 571 yards, seven
TDS) are all important contributors as well.
Jamal Morrow has done what he can with limited chances on the ground. He has
309 yards on 75 carries, while making an impact in the passing game as well
(57 receptions, 402 yards).
On defense, Washington State still leaves a lot to be desired. The Cougars are
ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in both total defense (454 ypg) and scoring defense
(38 ppg). That puts tremendous pressure on the offense to be perfect.
Arizona State had a down game by its own offensive standards against Oregon
State, the team generating only 367 yards, which was a step down from the
464.8 yards per game they average for the season.
While all the blame cannot be laid at Taylor Kelly’s feet, his inconsistent
play didn’t help matters. Kelly completed exactly half of his pass attempts
for 264 yards and two touchdowns as well as two interceptions, including the
one Doctor returned. Kelly missed a chunk of time earlier this season with an
injury, but he has usually been much better, with 1,498 yards, 14 touchdowns
and five interceptions on 57.4 percent passing.
Kelly could be without his best receiver this weekend. Jaelen Strong (71
receptions, 982 yards, nine TDs), who leads the team in receptions, yards and
touchdowns, is listed as questionable with a head injury. He had 103 yards and
no scores in the losing effort against Oregon State, ending a five-game streak
with at least one touchdown grab. Cameron Smith (28 receptions, 410 yards,
four TDs) is the next best receiver, while running back D.J. Foster (47
receptions, 527 yards, three TDs) is a key target as well.
Foster is more than a receiver, however, with 872 yards and six touchdowns on
155 carries this season. He had 51 yards on 14 attempts against the Beavers
after picking up 120 yards the previous week against Notre Dame.
Arizona State is a better defensive team than Washington State, but not by as
wide a margin as their respective records might indicate. The Sun Devils rank
fifth in the Pac-12 in both total defense (406.7 ypg) and scoring defense
Without Strong the Sun Devils will have to find other ways to move the
football. Luckily, they have plenty of offensive firepower left over,
especially in Foster, who will likely be the focal point in this matchup. Falk
was great in his first start, but he will have trouble in a hostile
environment against a hungry Arizona State squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 41, Washington State 28