SCOTT DAVIS TACKLES ZACH MILLER
AFTER BEING RANKED in the preseason Top 25 and opening the year 3-0, the Sun Devils have arguably become the conferences biggest disappointment. They’ve lost four of six conference games, nearly all in blowout fashion and now the best case scenario appears a lower tier bowl game for the team Dirk Koetter called, just a few months ago, the most talented he’d ever coached.
In fairness, that talent has been somewhat diluted due to a rash of injuries. But to Koetter's critics, not to the point it should have affected the performance of the team to this degree. And the din coming out of the desert for a coaching change is growing louder. In the near term, however, two banged up teams will square off this Saturday, with a win crucial to the bowl aspirations of both squads.
THE SUN DEVILS ON OFFENSE
| Cougars (6-4) vs Sun Devils (5-4)|
AT A GLANCE
6:00 pm PT
Sun Devil Stadium (73,300)
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WSU by 1 ½
Last year ASU beat WSU 27-24 in Rudy Carpenter’s first career start.
ASU leads the series 18-12-2
WSU 37, Sun Devils 20
Players to Know
Rudy Carpenter, QB: It’s an old story now, but for those who don’t know, Koetter essentially had to pick one of his two marquee quarterbacks knowing that the other would almost surely transfer. He chose senior Sam Keller, then quickly reversed himself, as a group of players and Carpenter expressed their dissatisfaction. Keller left for Nebraska, and after leading the nation in passing efficiency last year, Carpenter has looked shell shocked and confused at times his sophomore campaign. He has averaged only 183 passing yards per game.
Ryan Torain, RB: ASU had two solid running backs in Torain and Keegan Herring. Torain, the bigger, more physical back has been the workhorse of late, though he may be limited with an ankle injury — Koetter is insisting he will play. Herring, who also sat out Tuesday’s practice after a pounding at OSU, has game breaking ability but yet to find his stride this season as compared to last.
Zach Miller, TE: ASU was lacking firepower at receiver heading into the year, but injuries and suspensions have them paper thin now. Miller is a talented tight end that has become a vital target for Carpenter.
Offensive line: They are large, perhaps the heaviest tackle-to-tackle Washington State has faced this year with the lightest lineman still checking in at over 300 pounds. Guard Paul Fanaika is listed at 6-6, 355 pounds.
Coach Koetter prefers to air it out but with Carpenter’s struggles and a young receiver corps, the Sun Devils have looked to their ground game much more than usual. No specific player has set the league on fire, but the ground game can be punishing. Backs Torain and Herring have 1300 yards and 11 scores between them. Like WSU, the Sun Devils have experienced a slew of injuries to their offensive line and receivers, and last week started their third player at right tackle this season.
DT Aaron Johnson takes down Carpenter last year, one of three Cougar pass sacks on the day.
The Sun Devil receivers have been a major disappointment so the running game would understandably be WSU’s primary focus. Koetter will throw in enough deep balls to keep the Cougars honest, but the WSU secondary should be able to hold it together. Key will be the ability to get in Carpenter’s face and make sure his jersey needs plenty of bleach on Sunday.
THE SUN DEVILS ON DEFENSE
Players to Know
Josh Barrett, S: Barrett leads the team in tackles (52) and interceptions (2). He was named conference player of the week after the victory against UW in which he got both of his picks.
The Sun Devils rank No. 8 in the conference in scoring defense at 26 points per game. As with the offense, there is a glaring lack of star power. They have already surpassed last year’s sack total but from an overall perspective, ASU has still somehow struggled to consistently pressure quarterbacks in Pac-10 play. Their run defense, however, has been sound.
QB Alex Brink could find success against the ASU defense on the ground as well as through the air.
Losing star receivers Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus could limit WSU but Bill Doba has 1) not yet ruled them out and 2) been forceful in his comments that the Cougs have receiver depth plenty capable of getting the job done. The play of Charles Harris, Dan Rowlands, Kenny Alfred, Sean O'Connor, Bobby Byrd, and the rest of the offensive line, is always crucial but especially so this week. If the unit struggles, as many felt they did last Saturday, they could find themselves in the same situation as they did against Arizona — playing catch up. If the unit plays as they have at times earlier this season, WSU could run away with this game. Doba has indicated WSU will probably run more two tight end sets but the staff won’t make wholesale game plan changes, saying the Cougs have the personnel up and down the roster to step in for injured starters. QB Alex Brink might benefit by looking to create plays with his feet if things break down here. Running quarterbacks have given ASU trouble.
THE SUN DEVILS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Devils have a decent short range kicker in senior Jesse Ainsworth, but he hasn’t hit one beyond 40 yards this year. Punter Jonathan Johnson averages 41 yards per boot.
Out – DT Fevaea’i Ahmu
Questionable – DT Ropati Pitoitua, RB Derrell Hutsona, RG Andy Roof, WR Jason Hill, WR Michael Bumpus
Probable – RB DeMaundray Woolridge
Out – RT Stephen Berg, WR Nate Kimbrough, RT Andrew Carnahan
Questionable – WR/CB Rudy Burgess, RB Ryan Torain, WR Jamaal Lewis
Probable – WR Mike Jones, WR Chris McGaha
ASU has essentially been blown out by almost every team with a winning record and have beaten every team with a losing record. On paper, this game should be a close contest. It may be fortunate for Washington State that ASU lost their way to the extent they did against Oregon State last week (44-10). The lopsided defeat has energized the fan base, the pressure on Koetter has increased — and one result would appear to be the fans are unlikely to turn out in force this weekend. Talking about must games and putting undue pressure on players to the extent they come out tight is something Doba stays away from, but the coach also said the players can sense the importance a win against ASU would bring. Washington State has followed up each loss this season with a win the next week.