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No. 18 Arizona State looks to quell Washington State’s pass attack

Arizona State's Eno Benjamin (3) jumps over California's Elijah Hicks as he is pursued by Jaylinn Hawkins in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Arizona State and Washington State were heading in very different directions before their respective byes last week.

ASU won a gritty 24-17 matchup at No. 15 Cal to jump back into the AP Top 25, where they currently sit 18th.

WSU got shut out in the second half at Utah and was pounded 38-13, its second straight loss. The Cougars have not lost three in a row since 2014, and ASU’s coaches know that.

“They understand where they’re at, they need to win, but we do too,” Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards said on Monday. “I know they’re going to be at their best and we need to be at ours.”

These two teams are designed very differently, with ASU establishing itself as a run-heavy, long drive team at Cal and WSU committing to an Air Raid approach under Mike Leach. This clash could be a battle of which team establishes their ideal tempo.

The Sun Devils’ sole loss to this point came in a shootout-style outing with Colorado, so what they learned from that experience could be the difference on Saturday.

Essential Info

What: Washington State (3-2,0-2) @ Arizona State (4-1, 1-1)

When: Saturday, at 12:30 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Pass-happy Cougars

The Cougars have thrown the ball 249 times this season and ran it 89 times.

They lead the FBS in passing attempts, yards and touchdowns and it has mostly worked. They are eighth in the country in points per game (44.8).

Quarterback Anthony Gordon has made this possible with his dynamic play. He completes 72% of his throws and has 22 scores with six interceptions.

He spreads the ball around a lot — eight receivers have at least 15 catches — but his favorite target seems to be Easop Winston Jr., who has 28 catches and eight touchdowns.

Utah keyed in on Winston and held him to two receptions. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that the Utes gave Gordon his most trouble.

Defensively, WSU has been a trainwreck in recent weeks.

It allowed 67 points to UCLA in Week 4. The Bruins have scored beyond 20 points just twice in six games this year.

At Utah, the secondary continued to flail as it allowed 334 yards through the air.

This season, the Cougars have deflected the ninth-fewest balls in the country and have just three interceptions.

Defending the run has not been effective either, as WSU allows 178.8 yards per game on the ground.

How Arizona State matches up

If ASU controls WSU’s pass attack then winning becomes easy. Utah did that recently and the Cougars had nowhere to go.

But this is a Washington State team that has been tremendous through the air before Week 5 and could be another version of what ASU saw with Colorado a few weeks ago, when Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-30 passing.

“You can go two ways,” Edwards said. “Some people bring pressure and rush five or six guys. When you do that you have to tackle in space, that’s the key. Their quarterback spreads the ball around and he doesn’t get hit a lot because he gets the ball out of his hand quick.

“Or, you can drop eight and he gets to stand in the pocket all day and you have to cover your receiver.”

WSU has a solid offensive line, so ASU may have to bring a number of blitz packages to reach Gordon. That would leave a lot of one-on-one battles in the secondary, which is dangerous.

On offense, ASU should be able to move the chains and sustain long drives.

Halfback Eno Benjamin had his best game of the season against Cal and he could put up big numbers again this week.

A week before that, quarterback Jayden Daniels had a huge game against the Buffaloes’ lackluster passing defense with 345 yards and two touchdowns. But he’s coming off a 14-of-24 game against Cal, accounting for 174 passing yards — he did add 12 carries for 84 yards on the ground, however.

A balanced attack with some deep shots down the field from Daniels could lead to ASU dropping its highest scoring output of the season (currently 31 points).

Final thought

Washington State moves fast with a lot of quick throws to keep defenses on their heels. If ASU can avoid giving up large plays and force a lot of third downs, as Utah did, then the Sun Devils have a good shot at holding Wazzu in check.

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