The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Devils

TURNOVER MARGIN AN ISSUE WITH DEVILS

HEY NOW, this is progress. Washington State Saturdays are no longer a halftime sprint for the parking lot. First it's a competitive effort at UCLA, a surprisingly entertaining performance against Oregon, a respectable showing at Arizona and now, a decent scrap at Stanford. You know the next step: a win.

The first of the four final opportunities comes Saturday at Arizona State, when the Cougs and Devils kick off at 4 p.m. Pacific Time (no live TV scheduled as of Monday morning).

As winnable games go on Washington State's remaining schedule, the Sun Devils rate right up there.

California, which plays at WSU on Nov. 6, has been dreadful on the road this season, but it's hard to look past some of the beatdowns the Bears have placed on a few of their opponents this season, including last Saturday against Arizona State.

Oregon State? In mid-November, the Beavers have been a beast in recent years.

Washington? OK, we know you'd love to get this one, and frankly, the Apple Cup appears the most winnable among the Cougars' remaining slate. But probably not much more than Arizona State.

There was a time when Arizona State appeared better than its record. The Sun Devils gave Wisconsin all it could handle in Madison before losing 20-19. They physically beat up Oregon. ASU pushed Oregon State to the limit in Corvallis before losing.

But that's the problem. They were all losses. At some point, the losses wear on a team, and that might be the case for an Arizona State team that finds itself 3-4 after getting flattened 50-17 at Cal last Saturday.

How much fight do the Sun Devils have left? They haven't exactly rallied for their coach Dennis Erickson in recent years. Last year, ASU rolled over during the season's second half, losing its final six games. In 2008, the Sun Devils also lost six straight, yet still had a chance to salvage a .500 record before no-showing in a 31-10 loss at Arizona.

Where WSU could exploit: The most glaring deficiency in Arizona State's game is turnover margin. The Sun Devils rank 116 out of 120 Division I teams in turnover margin at minus 1.29. Washington State is almost a full turnover better at minus .38 per game. ASU has thrown 14 interceptions; only Buffalo, Central Michigan and Duke have thrown more this season. Adding to that cloud is the fact quarterback Steven Threet is iffy for this weekend due to a concussion.

One streaky series: ASU has won six straight against Washington State, but prior to that, it was the Cougars winning three consecutive (2001-03), ASU winning four (1997-2000), WSU winning four straight (1991-94), and the Sun Devils taking four consecutive (1987-90). The two teams didn't play in 1995-96. The only time in this series when one of the teams won for the first time then failed to win again the following year was 1978-79, Arizona State's first two years in the Pac-10.

The last time Washington State beat Arizona State was 2003, when the Cougars won 34-19 in Pullman. WSU's last win in Tempe was 2001, when the Cougars won 28-16.

The Jim Moore zone: In honor of the great Coug and KIRO pundit who likes to make an occasional wager on WSU, Arizona State opens as a 21-point favorite over Washington State. Few teams in college football are hotter against the spread of late than the Cougars, who have covered four straight games. WSU should make it five straight here.

The Cougar connections: There's Dennis Erickson, Steve Broussard and defensive coordinator Craig Bray of course, but the Sun Devils' roots to the Palouse are deeper. Bray's son Trent, a Pullman High grad, is the linebackers coach, and one of the grad assistants is former WSU linebacker Alex Hamill. In addition, ASU defensive lineman Bo Moos is the son of WSU AD Bill Moos. Bo was born in Pullman and wears the same jersey number, 61, that pappy used to don back in the day. In addition, the Devils feature receiver Aaron Pflugrad, the former Pullman High star who finished is prep career in Eugene with Bo Moos. The junior transfer from Oregon, who is the son of former WSU assistant coach Robin Pflugrad, has 20 receptions for 233 yards this season. Pflugrad has been quiet of late, though, catching just two passes during the past three games. CF.C will have more on the Devils' Pullman connections later this week.

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