ASU football cautious of improved, upset-minded WSU

[caption id="attachment_23051" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="CHANCES WANING: Members of the ASU football team watch the action against Washington in early October. The Sun Devils host Washington State on Saturday, their first home game since Sept. 25, and must win four of their last five to qualify for a bowl game. (Photo by Scott Stuk)"][gallery]

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Momentum in sports is a powerful thing. Teams that have it on their side are bound to do good things.

There hasn’t been much momentum in Pullman during the Paul Wulff era.

There have been just four wins in three seasons and it has been over a year since Washington State has defeated an FBS opponent.

When a program falls as far down as WSU has recently, momentum may not always be measured in wins and losses.

In the Cougars’ case, they have only a win over Montana State on their record this season, but have been slowly building momentum and are vastly improved from the beginning of the year.

Coming off a lackluster performance against California last Saturday, ASU can’t overlook a hungry Cougars team if they don’t want to fall victim to an upset on Homecoming in Tempe.

“They are a football team, that as you watch from the beginning of the season ‘til now is unbelievable,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “You have to give credit to Paul Wulff and his coaching staff. They have done a great job.”

While WSU has struggled to run the football this season, the Cougars’ passing game has been improved.

Led by sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel, WSU is fifth in the Pac-10 in passing yards per game.

Freshman wide receiver Marquess Wilson leads the conference with 796 receiving yards and junior Jared Karstetter is eighth with 479.

“Offensively they have a lot of weapons,” Erickson said. “They spread people out and take advantage of the great receivers they have. Jeff Tuel is a good, young quarterback.

“They are scoring points against everybody. Their [offensive] front is playing good and they are getting the ball out quick.”

Under offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, WSU runs an offense that has a lot of the same principles of ASU’s variation of the spread offense that Noel Mazzone installed this season.

“A lot of the same things we attempt to do offensively,” Erickson said. “Get the ball out and get it up field.”

While the Cougars are improved offensively, the same can’t be said about the defense.  WSU is dead last in the NCAA in total defense and give up 487 yards per game.

A lot of the struggles can be blamed on youth.  WSU starts three freshmen and three sophomores on defense.

In time, that youth will improve and get better.  Erickson sees that starting to occur for the Cougars.

“They play a lot of young players that are playing really well,” Erickson said. “They have a safety, Deone Bucannon, a true freshman who is playing really well, as well as [freshman linebacker] C. J. Mizell.”

Facing a young defense may be what ASU needs to get its offense back on track after failing to score an offensive touchdown last week.

Earlier in the week, Erickson announced that he will simplify the offense to take some of the load off of redshirt junior quarterback Steven Threet.

“It’s a matter of making the decision-making process easier,” Threet said. “There are a lot of things, even just run plays and getting the ball to our [wide receivers] as well. Just trying to execute the system well.”

The Sun Devils are favored by three touchdowns against WSU, but momentum is a funny thing.  ASU will have to get its momentum back to avoid the upset.

“We’re going to have to play very good to win the game,” Erickson said. “If you watch them against Oklahoma State and now against Stanford they are a lot better team, especially defensively. They played Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona pretty good.”

Reach the reporter at andrew.gruman@asu.edu


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