The last time Arizona State visited Pullman, Wash., the result didn’t go the Sun Devils’ way.
ASU entered the game with a 6-3 record, hoping to bounce back after a close loss to UCLA. Cougars’ quarterback Connor Halliday lit up the Sun Devils’ defense, throwing for 494 yards and four touchdowns in Washington State’s 37-27 win.
That was before Todd Graham took over as head coach, and though ASU defeated the Cougars handily last year, Graham isn’t taking the game lightly.
“I think the thing we’ve emphasized with our players this week, is just how much better they are than they were last year and how hard they play,” Graham said. “These guys are going to play hard. These guys are tough. These guys, I can tell, are a strong character team.”
In particular, Graham praised Washington State’s offense, which is sixth in the country in passing yards with 373.1 per game. It starts with the receiving corps.
“Their receivers are very, very solid,” Graham said. “There’s not a Marqise Lee, there’s not a Jaelen Strong-type guy. But they’re all good receivers that play extremely hard.”
Graham added Washington State has shown huge improvement in their second year under coach Mike Leach, as evidenced by their 4-4 record, which is one more win than they had all of last season.
“You can tell they understand the system now,” Graham said. “Last year, they didn’t understand the system, they were trying to learn the system.”
The key to stopping Washington State’s high-powered offense, according to Graham, is exploiting their weak spot.
“The thing that’s hurt them this year, it’s real simple, it ain’t hard to find it, it’s turning the football over. We’ve got to create turnovers,” Graham explained, before adding what the Sun Devils need to do on the other side of the ball to get the win. “We’ve got to take care of the ball on offense, and then obviously we need to win field position and kicking. We don’t need to be giving them short fields and stuff like that.”
Washington State is 122nd out of 123 schools with 25 turnovers lost this year. Arizona State’s forced 16 turnovers, putting them 25th in the country.
The teams face off Halloween night at 7:30 p.m. MT.