ASU (3-6) needs to win out its three remaining games to qualify for a bowl game. This Saturday, ASU travels to Pullman, Washington, to take on a Washington State (5-4) team that is only one win away from bowl eligibility.
"We are going to win out," said ASU junior defensive back Chris Edmonds. "We're going to show up to the locker room. We're going to watch tape, see what we can fix, and get this thing rolling."
Washington State started its season firing on all cylinders, finishing 4-1 through the first five games and barely losing to No. 6 Oregon 44-41. After the win against the University of California to improve to 4-1, the Cougars looked like they could be a "dark horse" contender for the Pac-12 title.
WSU went on to lose its next three games, all to other Pac-12 teams. Utah and USC were two of those opponents, two schools that also took down ASU this season.
After a 52-14 bounce-back blowout win against Stanford, the Cougars look to gain some of the same momenta they had earlier this season against the Sun Devils.
"Whether we win or lose, we come back Monday morning," said Washington State coach Jake Dickert. "I think there's there's no better confidence than winning. We need to continue to do that, but we've wiped this one, and we're on to Arizona State."
Dickert is familiar with one of ASU's top players, graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay. Dickert and Valladay were at Wyoming at the same time. Dickert was the defensive backs coach and eventually defensive coordinator while Valladay was the running back.
Dickert praised Valladay, calling him one of the best running backs in the Pac-12. He also said there was no way to stop Valladay on the field.
The Cougars' strength statistically is their defense. They rank first in the Pac-12 in points allowed per game, only allowing 20 points on average, compared to ASU, that allows 31.1. They are fourth in yards allowed per game with 361.3 and third in the conference in sacks with 23. The Sun Devils have only accumulated 11 this season.
"We're playing physical," Dickert said. "I think over the last four games, our secondary's communication with each other to not give up explosive plays has been incredible. They're playing fast and together. It's great to see."
Sophomore quarterback Cameron Ward leads the Cougar offense. Ward ranks sixth in the conference in passing yards and ties for fifth in passing touchdowns.
"They're gonna throw the ball around," said ASU defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. "He (Ward) is comfortable running their offense. They're going to run many plays with four wide receivers and spread out."
Another standout on the Cougar offense is junior running back Nakia Watson, who ran effectively on Stanford last weekend, tallying up 166 rushing yards and scoring one touchdown.
"We have our job cut out for us this week," said interim coach Shaun Aguano. "They're stingy on defense and ran the ball well against Stanford. We got to make sure our guys are ready to go."
Despite the loss to UCLA last week, the Sun Devils saw a lot of success on offense, especially in the second half, where they scored 26 of 36 points. Redshirt junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet threw for 349 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Valladay had another great night in the running game, acclimating 92 rushing yards and 89 receiving yards with two touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Elijhah Badger had 83 receiving yards on eight catches and a beautiful one-handed touchdown catch from seven yards out.
Badger and Valladay have been part of the majority of the highlights the Sun Devils have had this season. Badger ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in receiving yards with 710 on the season, while Valladay ranks third in rushing yards with 852.
ASU goes into Pullman as an eight-point underdog and will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MST on Saturday.
Edited by Walker Smith, David Rodish and Piper Hansen.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.