Redshirt junior Taylor Kelly has been dangerous all season but rose to a different level in ASU’s win against Washington. In addition to his 271 passing yards and two touchdowns, Kelly ran for 84 yards and another pair of touchdowns. His running ability threw off the Huskies and opened up the playbook for offensive coordinator Mike Norvell that much more. Kelly is now the second-leading rusher on the team after his performance against the Huskies.
Redshirt junior Connor Halliday threw the ball an FBS-record 89 times against Oregon last game, completing 58 passes. Coach Mike Leach has his offense throwing the ball the ball 76.4 percent, which is why Halliday is averaging 349.8 passing yards per game. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns but has also thrown 17 interceptions in eight games.
Senior Marion Grice continues to lead the nation in scoring, averaging 15.4 points per game. It would be hard to find a better red zone running back than Grice, who also leads the nation with 12 rushing touchdowns. The yards are now starting to pour in for Grice, too. He had a season-high 158 yards against Washington. There’s no question of whether or not Grice is the feature back now, either. He has 79 more rushing attempts than any other ASU running back.
The Cougars are averaging an FBS-low 58.4 rushing yards per game. Some of this has to do with the lack of rushing opportunities, but the Cougars are still averaging only 3.2 yards per rush. Junior Marcus Mason is leading the team in rushing with 208 rushing yards in eight games and redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa has chipped in with six touchdowns on the ground.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The Sun Devils’ two leading receivers, redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong and sophomore D.J. Foster, have been limited all week with injuries. Even if Strong and Foster aren’t as effective as usual, the Sun Devils have players who can fill their roles. Senior Kevin Ozier led the team with eight catches for 88 yards against Washington after Strong left with an injury, and senior tight end Chris Coyle had 2012-like production against the Huskies, catching five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Gabe Marks is far and away the best receiver for the Cougars, catching 59 passes for 655 yards and five touchdowns so far this season. The Cougars have spread the ball around a lot with 11 different receivers catching at least 10 passes this season. Eight Cougars have at least 200 yards receiving and senior Vince Mayle is tied with Marks, as both have five touchdown receptions.
ASU’s offensive line has been up and down all season but has played well the last couple of games, especially against Washington. It gave up three sacks to the Huskies but allowed the offense to rush for 314 yards and finish with 585 total yards. The offensive line has struggled in the two games away from Sun Devil Stadium, though, so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
The Cougars’ offensive line has allowed only 15 sacks in eight games, which is astounding for how often the team passes the ball. It’s hard to give them a lot of credit, though, since the offense is so one-dimensional. A good offensive line allows their running backs to rush for more than 3.2 yards per game, regardless of how infrequently they run.
The defensive line accounted for four of the seven sacks against Washington and played its best game of the season. Redshirt senior All-American Will Sutton (three total TFLs) and crew pressured Huskies’ senior quarterback Keith Price all afternoon and held the nation’s leading rusher, junior Bishop Sankey, to just 22 yards on 13 carries. That was the defensive line the Sun Devil faithful had been waiting to see all season and the one fans will now expect for the final five games.
Redshirt sophomore Xavier Cooper leads the Cougars with 9.5 tackles for loss and senior Ioane Gauta is tied for second with 6.5 tackles for loss. The two are also tied for the team lead with three sacks each on the season and are allowing opposing teams to run for just 4.4 yards per game, a number that includes an 8.7 yard average by Oregon last game.
ASU redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso led the defense in sacks with two against Washington and highlighted a strong overall performance from the linebackers. Senior Anthony Jones tied for the team lead in tackles with five and added a sack of his own. Fiso, Jones and senior Chris Young are all set in their positions and should continue to improve as they play together more this season.
Junior Cyrus Coen and redshirt sophomore Darryl Monroe anchor the middle of the Cougars’ defense and have combined for 12 tackles for loss this season, including six sacks. The two are also tied for second on the team with 49 tackles apiece. Senior Justin Sagote is tied for fourth on the team with 45 tackles.
Senior cornerback Osahon Irabor and senior safety Alden Darby continue to command the boundary side of the secondary, but the field side, more specifically the field corner position, has been shaky lately. Redshirt junior safety Damarious Randall has stepped in nicely, but senior cornerback Robert Nelson has struggled and was replaced by redshirt sophomore Lloyd Carrington in the second quarter against Washington. The Sun Devils will need a strong performance from the secondary against a pass-happy Washington State team.
Senior safety Deone Bucannon is the leader of the defense and leads the Cougars in tackles with 73. Bucannon has also added 3.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. The Cougars have a good cornerback in senior Damante Hornton, who has four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 3.5 tackles for loss of his own.
Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez has hit 12 straight field goals and is 15 of 18 on the year, but that remains the only special teams bright spot for ASU. Punting remains an issue regardless of who it is, and Nelson continues to perform at an subpar level in the return game. Coach Todd Graham has reiterated the need for special teams to improve, continually calling it his team’s weakest area.
Senior kicker Andrew Furney is 10 of 12 on field goals this season, including six of seven between 40 and 49 yards. Redshirt senior punter Mike Bowlin is averaging 39.6 yards per punt. Redshirt senior running back Leon Brooks has been solid returning punts, averaging 10.2 yards per return and has even returned one for 55 yards.
Overall EDGE: ASU
The Sun Devils are better on paper than the Cougars, but the game isn’t played on paper. It will be played in the cold, something the Sun Devils haven’t faced all season. Graham has said the cold won’t affect his players, but it affected them two years ago when the Sun Devils, then coached by Dennis Erickson, fell 37-27 in Pullman. That game and this one are strikingly similar. The Sun Devils entered the 2011 matchup as the leaders of the Pac-12 South and were led by a junior quarterback from Idaho. They needed a win to solidify their position at the top back then, too. This year’s team is in the same position and will have to play a lot better if they want to leave Washington with a Halloween victory. The Sun Devils need this game but haven’t won on the road all season. If the Sun Devils can put everything aside and play their game, they will win but it won’t be easy — even if it looks like it on paper.
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