As ASU football heads into the bottom half of the season, three of its next five games are on the road.
The Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) have won all of their games at Sun Devil Stadium, but they also have yet to win any away from Tempe.
Road trips have always been an issue for the program. ASU is 4-5 in road and neutral site games in the Todd Graham era. The Sun Devils have yet to find a consistent formula for winning on the road.
The players, though, refuse to let the trend bother them.
“Huh, Darby, we’re not worried about no road games?” redshirt senior defensive tackle Will Sutton yelled to senior safety Alden Darby during a media session.
“No, not at all, man!” Darby hollered back. “That ain’t nothing, man. We’ll play in snow, sleet, whatever.”
There’s a chance the Sun Devils will have to play in inclement weather on Thursday when ASU travels to Pullman, Wash., to face Washington State.
The last time the Sun Devils made that trip was in 2011, when it snowed at Martin Stadium and Cougars redshirt junior quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 494 passing yards and four touchdowns against ASU as a freshman.
Other than Halliday still starting at quarterback, just about everything else at both programs has since changed.
“You go and forget,” Sutton said. “I feel like it’s a new team. You can’t control what happened in the past. Whatever happened that year is forgotten.”
It’s no secret; Halliday has unloaded the ball more than ever this year under coach Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense.
Halliday threw an FBS-record 89 pass attempts just last week. He stands second in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game with 349.8 but also has thrown the most interceptions in the conference with 17.
The Cougars (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12), meanwhile, are last in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, averaging 58.4 rushing yards per game.
This is exactly the kind of offense Graham prefers to defend.
“I rather play a passing team, because it’s easier to fix that than it is when you’re just getting the ball ran over you,” he said. “I’ve never been able to figure (a heavy rushing team) out if (we’re) just getting blocked.”
Graham’s attention isn’t all on Washington State’s aerial attack. He said he’s noticed the Cougars defense has made noticeable strides and gave it much credit for stopping USC and containing Oregon State.
“Defensively, they get turnovers,” Graham said. “They’re getting interceptions. They’re creating negative plays.”
Graham has issued ASU a new challenge on offense for this week’s game against Washington State. Despite ASU’s ability to move the ball quickly up the field and score, he would like to see the Sun Devils establish the run game more. He noted senior running back Marion Grice has yet to fumble the ball this season.
“I can’t stand being in a game where we have to throw the ball,” Graham said. “We want to throw the ball because we want to. We like to throw for three or four thousand yards per year, but I want to be one of the top rushing teams. We’re 25th in rushing last year. I want to be one of the best rushing teams in the country, because that’s what makes it work.”
With Graham’s expectations for his offense and Washington State’s prolific offensive attack of its own, it will be hard to imagine that Thursday night’s primetime, national television showdown will be anything short of a high-scoring affair. In games like these, something has to give, whether it’s one team’s offense slowing itself down or a defense getting key stops.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly said he’s confident in his offense’s capability and that he trusts the ASU defense to hold up on its end.
“We just have to go out there and do our job,” Kelly said. “We have to handle each of our responsibilities, because we’re capable of putting points up on the board. As long as everyone focuses on their job, we’re going to put some points on the board.”
If ASU wins on Thursday, it will become bowl-eligible for the third straight year.
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