ASU’s slim bowl hopes hinge on beating ‘stingy’ Washington State defense

Nov 9, 2022, 9:53 AM | Updated: Nov 11, 2022, 10:43 am
Jaden Hicks #25 of the Washington State Cougars celebrates after he returned a fumble for a touchdo...
Jaden Hicks #25 of the Washington State Cougars celebrates after he returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the second quarter of an NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils football team has a tough test on Saturday with the Washington State Cougars defense.

And if ASU (3-6; 2-4 in the Pac-12) has any hopes of becoming bowl eligible, it will have to run the table and win all three of its remaining games, starting with WSU.

Washington State has been a different team since Jake Dickert took over as interim head coach last season, with his first win being the 34-21 victory over ASU at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Now with the interim tag removed, Dickert and Co. sit at 5-4 (2-4 in the Pac-12) and boast the nation’s No. 23 scoring defense at 20 points allowed per contest.

A large part of that is due to Washington State’s No. 31-ranked run defense, which only allows 122.9 yards on the ground per game.

“They’re a very stingy defense,” ASU interim head coach Shaun Aguano said Monday. “They fit well in the run game. They’re playing really good defense there. Their head coach is a defensive guy so I think the emphasis is on the defensive side.”

Sun Devils quarterback Trenton Bourguet will have an opportunity to lead the offense against a Cougars defense that is currently allowing 238.4 passing yards a game at a 63% clip. The QB has averaged 322 yards and a 75% completion percentage in his three games (two starts) this season.

However, Bourguet will want the likes of starting left guard LaDarius Henderson to return from injury after missing the last three games with a finger ailment. Washington State has 23 sacks this season, the 32nd-most in the country at a 2.56-per-game average.

WSU also ranks 42nd in the nation in third-down defense, only allowing opponents to convert 35.7% of the time.

Converting on third down is an issue ASU has struggled with all season at only a 40.2% clip. That metric has jumped to 52.5% (21 of 40) in games where Bourguet is under center.

“They bring pressure and they bring all sorts of pressure up front and you have to manage that in the pass game,” Aguano said. “Our guys have been here (Sunday) night and in early (Monday) trying to figure that out. … So we have our job cut out for us this week but we’re just going to go back and plan and get these guys ready to go.”

And despite allowing 361.3 yards per game, the red zone is when the Washington State defense is at its best.

Tied for the No. 31 in the country, the Cougars have only allowed 17 touchdowns and eight field goals in 32 (78.1%) trips while seven drives resulted in no points. Conversely, Arizona State owns the 37th-best red zone offense with 24 touchdowns and seven field goals in 35 trips (88.6%).

And luckily for the Sun Devils, they look to have avoided a wet and rainy Pacific Northwest game this season.

Instead, the forecast in Pullman calls for a high of 37 degrees, sunny skies and 5 mph winds. Regardless, the interim head coach isn’t paying much attention to it.

“It’s not snowing, it’s not raining. It’s just going to be a little frigid,” Aguano said. “I’m going to be bundled up out there. Not (going to) bring it up to them. We’re just going to go out and take care of business. So however you want to dress and feel comfortable, but I’m not going to bring it up during the week.”

Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7, the Arizona Sports app and

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