TEMPE, AZ - The Cougs are back in action this weekend in Tempe Arizona, as they prepare to take on the #18 Arizona State Sun Devils. The last time WSU faced ASU was three years ago due to Pac-12 scheduling rotations, and that resulted in a 37-32 victory for the Cougs in the desert.
This year however, there isn't that same level of optimism surrounding the state of Cougar football, as the team is on a two-game skid coming into a matchup with another ranked opponent. Arizona State would likely be ranked closer to the top ten were it not for a loss earlier this season at the hands of the Colorado Buffaloes, but they boast impressive wins against the likes of Michigan State, and Cal. So, the question is, how can the Cougs come out on top and pick up their first conference win this weekend?
How the Cougars can win:
WSU can get back on track this weekend, if they are able to put up the points on offense that they are capable of scoring. Despite last weeks' performance, the Cougars are still averaging close to 44.8 points per game, a mark that has them ranked no. 1 in the conference. Arizona State on the other hand, ranks 10th in the Pac-12, scoring 22.8 points per game. The Sun Devils have only faced one top-50 offense (Colorado), and they haven't encountered an offense scoring more than 35 points per game. WSU hasn't lost consecutive Pac-12 games since 2016, and they haven't lost three in a row since 2014, which was also the last time they missed post-season play.
How the Sun Devils can win:
Mike Leach is hoping that the resignation of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys could spark a response for his team, but it's anyone's guess at how a mid-season change at defensive coordinator affects preparation throughout the week, and of course on game day. In addition to the shake up in the defensive coaching ranks, are all the areas where the Cougs have struggled on defense. WSU hasn't faced a supremely talented passing offense, yet they have managed to give up 841 yards, and 7 TDs through the air in their last two games, (UCLA & Utah). ASU quarter back Jayden Daniels isn't known for his passing prowess either, but like UCLA quarter back Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Utah’s Tyler Huntley is a capable runner who can make things happen outside of the pocket and make the Cougars pay if they aren’t disciplined in pass coverage. The Cougars avoided Utah's Zack Moss in their last game, but they will be forced to face Eno Benjamin who's rushed for 392 yards, and six touchdowns this season.
WSU is in for a difficult road test to be sure, but if there's one thing we've learned about Mike Leach in years past, it's to never count his teams out when they are backed into a corner.