November 15, 2008

Washington State preview

Having won only a third of its games this season, common sense says Arizona State shouldn't be an overwhelming favorite to beat anybody.

But luckily for the Sun Devils, Washington State comes to town on Saturday.

ASU is a 36-point favorite over the Cougars, who rank near the bottom of the FBS in nearly every major statistical category.

WSU's only win this season came against Portland State, a team that lost to NAU by 20.

The Sun Devils know what they are facing Saturday. They know this should be an easy win on homecoming weekend. But at the same time, they aren't getting overconfident.

"It is a game that we should win but Washington [State] is going to come ready to play," cornerback Terell Carr said. "Their record doesn't really speak to the type of talent that they do have."

Coming off last week's win at Washington, ASU, which hasn't won consecutive games since early September, would like to get a winning streak started on Saturday.

The last time the Sun Devils won consecutive games also marks the last time they won in Sun Devil Stadium.

So while the players and coaches want to get things headed in the right direction and keep post season hopes alive, it is just as important to them that they win at home in front of their fans.

ASU hasn't won in Tempe since it beat Stanford back on Sept. 6.

"It's been a while since we won here," linebacker Mike Nixon said. "We've been kicked around a little bit here and we've got to try and get our pride back this week and get a win for everyone who comes out and supports us. Those fans deserve it."

Throughout the week, the players had a noticeable swagger during practice that wasn't there during the six-game slide.

Nobody seemed as uptight as they were the past two months, there was more joking and laughing and the mental mistakes were minimized. Everyone appeared to be having more fun and the confidence level seemed to be higher.

"Anytime you get the monkey off your back after six losses in a row [your confidence will be up]," Nixon said. "We're ready to start a new chapter. We started to do that last week and we're hoping to build on it this week."

As it has been all season, the key for the Sun Devil offense will be the rushing attack.

Last week ASU gained 182 yards on the ground using the combination of running backs Keegan Herring and Shaun DeWitty, who coach Dennis Erickson said will once again receive a majority of the carries.

"Hopefully we can run it," Erickson said. "We're the best when we can run it so that's what we're going to attempt to do and we'll see what happens."

Even quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who admittedly would like to throw the ball every time, knows in order for him to be successful through the air the ground game needs to have another solid performance.

"Where [a solid rushing attack] helps most is in the protection," he said. "Those defensive linemen and those linebackers can't just pin their ears back and say, 'we're going to go after the passer.'… It allows me stand back there for some time and make some throws.

"The run game is, probably, the most important part to any offense."

For the third straight week ASU will have a new left guard after Zach Schlink, who started at the position against the Huskies, underwent season-ending micro fracture surgery on his right knee Tuesday.

All week long Garth Gerhart was practicing at left guard and it appears he will make his first career start on Saturday.

ASU's defense sees the upcoming game as a chance to make a statement at home.
Last home game, the Sun Devils allowed 54 points in a loss to Oregon.
The defense expects a much better performance this time.

"Defensively, we're going to try and come out here and make a statement," Carr said. "Playing at home, it's a great opportunity for us to create some turnovers and make something happen this weekend."

About Washington State

Head coach: Paul Wulff (1st season)
2007 results: 5-7
2008 record: 1-9 (0-7 Pac-10)

Offense

169-0. That tells it all.

The Cougars endured a 10-quarter stretch this season during which they were outscored 169-0.

"They've had some rough times offensively," Nixon said in one of the understatements of the season.

First, WSU was shut out in the second half of its loss to Oregon State while the Beavers put up 42. Then the Cougars were shut out in consecutive weeks by USC, 69-0, and Stanford, 58-0.

Finally running back Dwight Tardy's 18-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of last week's loss to Arizona ended the drought.

The Cougars rank 118th of the 119 teams in the FBS in total offense and scoring offense, averaging just 247 yards and 13.9 points per game.

WSU's offense did however start to show signs of life last week when it put up 28 points against the Wildcats.

Part of the reason WSU has been so futile on offense is the revolving door it has had at quarterback.

The Cougars' signal callers have been plagued by injuries in 2008 and they are on their third quarterback of the season, Kevin Lopina.

"They've had what, three quarterbacks now? I couldn't imagine that. That's hard," Erickson said. "I've been through a time when I've got down to the third one and it's hard to get any continuity or anything going."

Lopina has played in six games this season and is yet to throw a touchdown pass. He has though, thrown 10 interceptions.

The Cougars' top rusher is Tardy who has 326 yards and two scores on the year.
Perhaps the most talented offensive player on WSU is wide receiver Brandon Gibson.

Gibson had a 1,000- yard season in 2007 and is averaging more than 58 yards per game in 2008.

"Brandon is the guy you have to stop," Erickson said. "He is one of the better receivers in our league and has been for a long time. He can get the big play. He's a very talented guy. He'll play in the NFL a long time."

Defense

In the national statistics, the Cougar defense is right down there with its offense.

It ranks 1142h in total defense allowing 466.5 yards per game and is dead last in scoring defense with opponents amassing 50.2 points per contest.

ASU has talked about the necessity of a strong rushing attack, and it could easily happen against a Cougar defense that is letting up 279.1 yards on the ground per game.

Along with their inability to stop the run, the Cougars have had troubling pressuring quarterbacks as well.

WSU is last in the Pac-10 having only recorded seven sacks on the year.

One aspect of the WSU defense that has gone well in 2008 has been their ability to pick off opposing quarterbacks.

The Cougars have recorded eight interceptions, one less than ASU, and returned one of those picks for six points.

All season long, WSU used a 4-3 defensive scheme, but injuries to defensive end Kevin Kooyman and linebacker Andy Mattingly forced the Cougars into a 3-4 last week.

In the switch, defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu moved outside to end and played every defensive down against Arizona. He recorded four tackles, one for a loss, against the Wildcats.

Linebacker Greg Trent has led the way for the WSU defense with 65 tackles, one sack and one pick on the season.

Safety Xavier Hicks Jr. leads the team with two interceptions.



The Sun Devils have faced the Cougars 34 times and lead the all-time series 20-12-2.
ASU beat WSU 23-20 last season in Pullman, Wash.

ASU is 12-5-2 against the Cougars in Tempe.


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