TEMPE, Ariz. – The immovable object vs. the irresistible force.
All right, maybe it’s not that extreme, but Saturday’s match-up between ASU and Oregon State pits the Pac-12’s No. 1 passing defense against its top-rated passing offense.
The Sun Devils allow the fewest yards through the air (206.4), while the Beavers’ aerial assault is tops in the conference and second nationally (404.8).
“No. 1 passer in the conference. No. 1 receiver in the conference,” head coach Todd Graham explained.
Quarterback Sean Mannion pilots Oregon State. His co-pilot is 5-foot-10 junior Brandin Cooks.
“Obviously big play capabilities with Cooks. He is really special,” Graham said this week. “In my opinion he’s the best receiver that I’ve seen on film in this conference, and that’s saying a lot when you got guys like Marqise Lee and Jaelen Strong and guys like that. But he has been unbelievably productive.”
Cooks leads the Pac-12 in receptions (91), receiving yards (1344) and receiving touchdowns (14).
“Running with the ball in his hands,” senior cornerback Osahon Irabor answered when asked what makes Cooks so dangerous. “It’s after the catch. All those YAC yards he gets are special. There’s not really anyone doing it on his level right now. We understand that he’s a very good player and we’ve got to take him away.”
Easier said than done.
Cooks has six 100-yard receiving games, including two 200-yard performances.
The man throwing him the football, Mannion, leads the the nation, averaging close to 400 yards passing each game (393.8). In addition, he’s completing almost 68 percent of his passes, which can come in a variety of forms.
“They do a lot of screens, deep pass,” senior safety Alden Darby said. “They do everything. They’re a great passing team. Brandin Cooks is a great receiver. They do it all. They utilize all of their weapons.”
Of course the Sun Devils aren’t too bad themselves.
ASU has not allowed a team to throw for more than 300 yards all season, and it’s coming off its best performance (Utah passed for 121 yards) since the season-opener against Sacramento State.
“No adjustments, (it’s been) our same game plan,” Darby said. “We don’t let the offense dictate to what we do. Attacking-style defense, that’s what we do.
“We all got the same common goal, one goal in mind and that’s to get to the Rose Bowl by any means necessary no matter who’s in our way. We’re going to take every approach out there as if the team is trying to stop us to get to the Rose Bowl.”