The #25 ranking places a bulls-eye squarely on ASU’s chest
Tempe, AZ – The Palouse in eastern Washington can be a scary place for opponents in late October and November. Tonight on Halloween, you can add a pirate and a dash of poison to the mix.
Look no further than when the Sun Devils showed up in Pullman in November of 2011 as heavy favorites, but arrived back in Tempe bitter from having been torched by then freshman QB Connor Halliday (494 yards and four TD’s). That was BEFORE the arrival of “The Pirate”, head coach Mike Leach, and his “Air Raid” offense.
The DieHard Storyline starts with the weather in Pullman, and there is no doubt that the 39 degree game-time temperature play a factor in the game. Compound that with a new national ranking for #25 ASU that has put a bulls-eye squarely on their chests. Finally a national ESPN audience and a WSU student section that will be raucous after having their afternoon classes cancelled, and you have the makings for a potential upset.
Here are the other things to watch tonight in this nationally televised match-up on ESPN…
Grind it out on the ground
Grice will show ASU the light.
Most days, I’m all for a good old fashioned shootout with anyone given the Sun Devils propensity to score. But this game is going to hinge on the offensive line’s ability to own the trenches because two of the Sun Devils biggest weapons (WR Jaelen Strong and RB/WR DJ Foster) are nursing injuries.
An aggressive “hit you in the mouth” philosophy by Sun Devil OG Jamil Douglass and company will allow for RB Marion Grice to rush for big chunks of yards and control the tempo of the game. Grice is the active leading scorer in the nation. Look for #1 to maintain that status tonight.
Look for Rick Smith and DeMarieya Nelson to contribute.
Even though Strong and Foster are not at their best, ASU Offensive Coordinator Mike
Norvell still wants to keep the defense off-balance and stretched. That means that other WR’s will step up and make plays in the passing game. Also, keep an eye on freshman Receiver, #6 Cameron Smith, who could real in a Kelly bomb for a touchdown. It’s only a matter of time with Smith.
ASU must jump on the Cougars early and often, and sustain that pressure because WSU may be one of only a couple teams in the conference who are built to play catch-up.
“No fly zone” takes aim at the “Air-raid”
Time for the defensive backs to shine
The ASU secondary have dubbed themselves as the “No Fly Zone,” but have yet to be tested by an offensive scheme that deploys 4 and 5 receiver sets on every play.
Given that WSU QB Connor Halliday has thrown for 18 TD’s and 17 interceptions this season, apparently he’s been given the green light by Head Coach Mike Leach to unleash whatever throws he wants.
There are several players in the Sun Devil defensive backfield that are known “ball hawks” who will be chomping at the bit to make big plays in pass defense. ASU will be in Nickel package (5 DB’s) and suspect a good amount of Dime packages (6 DB’s) also if the Cougars start finding success in the air.
Sutton, Bradford & Co.
The ASU defensive front should find themselves single-blocked all night. This will be a welcome change for DL Will Sutton and Devil Backer Carl Bradford who have received steady doses of double-teams all season. Both players have a chance to be game-changers tonight.
Coach Leach has been known to stick to his “pass first” game plan throughout his career, but could attempt a rushing attack if the ASU defensive front is able to get substantial pressure on Halliday. WSU uses the 3-step drop and bubble screen to negate a good pass rush and get their play-makers the ball in space. As usual, sure one-on-one tackling is going to be paramount tonight as much as it was against more balanced and higher-rated teams in the early schedule.
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With near freezing weather, a pirate coach unleashing his “air-raid” attack on the Devils and plenty of crazy Cougar fans on board, ASU will need to keep their poise & character and limit turnovers to sink the Wazzu ship.
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