(Anthony Gordon photo courtesy Jeffrey Swinger/USA TODAY Sports)
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When and Where: Saturday, Oct. 12, Sun Devil Football Stadium, Tempe, Ariz., 3:30 p.m. EDT.
Looking to make some headway in the South Division of the Pac-12, No. 18 Arizona State looks to extend the woes of Washington State in an interdivisional showdown Saturday.
The Sun Devils (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12 South) bounced back from a surprising home loss to Colorado with their second road win over a ranked opponent, defeating then-No. 15 Cal 24-17 on Sept. 27. Eno Benjamin rushed for 100 yards and accounted for all three touchdowns, with the last giving Arizona State the lead for good with 4:41 to play.
After yielding 881 yards in the previous two games, the Sun Devils’ defense got back on track by holding the Bears to 245 total yards. They are limiting opponents to 104 rushing yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry.
Washington State (3-2, 0-2 North) appeared to still be caught in the fog of its collapse in losing 67-63 to UCLA two weeks ago as it was flattened by 19th-ranked Utah 38-13 on the road last Saturday.
Anthony Gordon was intercepted twice as the Cougars were held to season lows in points and yards (313). Gordon threw for 252 yards but failed to throw for multiple touchdowns for the first time this season. He still is second among FBS quarterbacks with 22 TD passes, trailing only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (23).
The Cougars have won the last two games between the teams, including a 37-32 victory in Tempe in 2016 in the most recent meeting. Arizona State had won 10 of the previous 11 games in the series.
Leach hoping simplified defense pays dividends for Coogs
After two losses that featured 105 points allowed and 1,183 yards given up while forcing just one turnover, Cougars coach Mike Leach accepted the resignation of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys on Tuesday.
“We didn’t have any shortage of strategy, we had too much strategy,” Leach said at his weekly media availability. “We had all the strategy in the world. Everybody thinks there’s some secret recipe, or if somebody would have just said this or just run that. Well it’s never like that. It never has been.”
Linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni will serve as interim defensive coordinator, while cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath is interim co-defensive coordinator. Bellantoni will be in the coaches’ box while McBath will be on the sidelines, a pairing Leach supports given McBath’s enthusiasm on the sidelines.
This is the second time Leach has had a defensive coordinator resign mid-season, with Lyle Setencich leaving in 2007 while Leach coached Texas Tech. Washington State is ranked tied for 107th in yards allowed at 444.4 per game and 99th in scoring defense at 30.6 points per game allowed. The Cougars had forced nine turnovers in their 3-0 start, but their plus-7 turnover margin from the first three games has zeroed out after committing eight turnovers in the two defeats.
Despite the two losses, Washington State still boasts a high-octane passing attack that leads all FBS teams with 450 yards per game. Eight different Cougars players have at least 15 receptions, led by Easop Winston Jr., who leads the team with 28 catches, 378 yards, and eight touchdowns — the last of which has him tied for second in the country.
Washington State is also fourth in total offense with 546.8 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 44.8 points per contest.
Edwards wants his team to ignore rankings, focus on football
This is the first time second-year coach Herm Edwards is facing Washington State, but he has tried to keep his players focused on the task at hand. One of them is ignoring the fact his Sun Devils are ranked, with the feeling that complacency is the enemy of what can be a title-contending team in the wide-open South Division of the Pac-12.
“We haven’t handled success very well when we get ranked,” Edwards told the Arizona Republic. “Rankings don’t help you win games. They’re nice. It doesn’t mean anything until the end. All that other stuff is just stuff. I would hope eventually when we build this program that it will be normal. It won’t be a conversation. That’s what you want. We’re not anywhere near that.”
Arizona State ranks 11th in the country in scoring defense at 14.4 points per game allowed but also has not faced an offense of Washington State’s caliber. The Sun Devils had plenty of issues with the best offense they have faced to date, losing 34-31 at home to Colorado on Sept. 21 when they were shredded for a season-worst 477 yards allowed.
One part of the game plan will be to keep Washington State’s offense on the bench, which means Benjamin can expect another high-volume game of carries. The junior has toted the rock 20 or more times in four of Arizona State’s five games, though the Sun Devils have won the time of possession battle just twice on the season.
Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has done an excellent job in terms of decision-making with just one interception in 140 pass attempts. Expectedly, Daniels has been far more comfortable at home than on the road, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 933 yards and all five of his touchdowns in those three games while averaging 10.37 yards per attempt.
Brandon Aiyuk leads the team in receiving with 24 receptions and 455 yards, the latter good for 16th in the country. The win over Cal marked the first time this season Aiyuk did not record one catch of at least 40 yards. He needs 20 yards to surpass his total of last season made with 33 catches.
Arizona State has a week off to try and figure out how to slow down the nation’s number one passing offense.
“Sometimes bye weeks are really good, but they also can backfire on you if you don’t get yourself ready to play,” Edwards said Monday. “You’ve got to get in the mode of playing football again and that’s kind of what hurts you on a bye week. Emotionally there’s a little bit of a letdown because you’re used to preparing every week.”
He’s also facing a Washington State team that just lost their defensive coordinator.
“In football, there’s always changes,” Edwards said. “I think players are accustomed to that, but I’ve never been around college football where something like this happens in the middle of the season. These are young people. How they handle that emotionally is a little bit different probably than the guys that play on Sunday.
“But they’ll rally. They’ve lost two in a row. That alone makes you say we want to win a game again. This is a very prideful team with a lot of guys that have won a lot of games.”
Arizona State is:
- 0-4 ATS in its last four home games.
- 2-5 ATS in its last seven games.
- 1-4 ATS in its last five games following an ATS win.
Washington State is:
- 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games vs. above-.500 teams.
- 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games following a straight up loss by 20 or more points.
- 10-4 ATS in its last 14 games following a straight up loss.
Washington State OVER 29.5 points (-110)
Edwards has a point about the Cougars being a prideful team, and getting pole-axed by Utah and being held to 13 points in addition to having a defensive coordinator resign had to be an attention-grabber for Washington State. Gardner is easily the best quarterback the Sun Devils have played to date, and the expectation is Leach will go deep in the playbook in this contest.
Washington State ML (-115)
Despite the upheaval during the bye week that led to Claeys’ resignation, the line has swung 3.5 points in Washington States’ favor as the Cougars opened as 2.5-point underdogs. In some ways, Leach’s team is at a crossroads because 0-3 in conference play can snowball really quick considering Wazzou’s next three games are at home to Colorado before road games versus ranked foes Oregon and Cal.
Arizona State is good, but it may be too big an ask for Daniels to go point for point with Gordon. Edwards is playing it close to the vest in terms of defensive philosophy for this game, but the feeling is Washington State’s offense is going to outgun the Sun Devils.
OVER 58.5 points (-110)
The total is on the low-side hook of a TD+FG total, and the feeling is this game will be similar to Arizona State’s game versus Colorado that had 65 points and both teams being able to move the ball rather consistently. The over is 8-3 in Washington State’s last 11 road games and 9-2 in the Sun Devils’ last 11 when coming off a bye week.
This line has ticked higher to 60 points, so hopefully you got in early, and if you didn’t, keep looking for the best line available.
Arizona State ML (-115)
Arizona State has yielded 31 first-half points in its five games, and all but seven of them came against Colorado. Even with what has been a solid Sun Devils defense, the feeling is the Cougars are going to turn this game into a shootout to compensate for their poor defense, especially in a transition to a new coordinator.
OVER 30 points (-110)
Again, the expectation is a high-scoring game, and it would not be surprising to see both offenses get up and down the field. The Cougars have played to 34 and higher in the first half in four of their five games, and Arizona State should be able to find some holes in Wazzou’s defense to help clear this number.