Cougs are desert bound

WSU faces 5-2 Arizona State Sun Devils this weekend

WSU+quarterback+Jayden+de+Laura+evades+BYU+defensive+lineman+Tyler+Batty+during+the+second+half+of+a+college+football+game+on+Oct.+23%2C+2021%2C+at+Martin+

SAM GRUVER

WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura evades BYU defensive lineman Tyler Batty during the second half of a college football game on Oct. 23, 2021, at Martin

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen reporter

The Cougs (4-4,3-2) gear up to play Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) at noon this Saturday inside the Sun Devil Football Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. 

Both the Cougars and Sun Devils are coming off tough losses in week eight, losing to BYU and Utah, respectively.

WSU lost 21-19 and Arizona State lost 35-21. Arizona State was supposed to win against Utah, but could not hold on to their early-game lead of 21-7. The loss against Utah caused Arizona State to lose their AP Top 25 ranking. 

WSU’s loss to BYU was the first game with interim head coach Jake Dickert at the helm. Now with the team focused on Arizona State, Dickert is confident in the team’s ability to keep the record above .500. 

“In order to be successful against Arizona State, we gotta get them behind the chains,” Dickert said. “We never had an opportunity to do that against BYU or the times we did on first down we had success on those series.”

WSU has a mere 13.3 percent chance of beating the Sun Devils, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. This is one of the lowest projections this year for the Cougs. With a win over WSU this Saturday, the Sun Devils might be able to regain their AP Top 25 ranking, as was the case with BYU, who is No. 25 after beating the Cougars.

Statistics-wise, Arizona State has better numbers than WSU in almost every category. These include points per game (31.6 ppg to 24.9 ppg), total yards per game (432.7 yards to 371.3 yards), rushing yards per game (202.9 yards to 108.8 yards) and yards allowed per game (321.3 yards to 391 yards). 

WSU’s Deon McIntosh is set to return to the field against Arizona State after missing the game against BYU due to an ankle injury sustained in week seven against Stanford.

SAM GRUVER
WSU running back Max Borghi (21) breaks away from BYU linebacker Max Tooley (31) during the second half of a college football game on Oct. 23 at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

The Cougs missed McIntosh’s run capabilities in the game against BYU. McIntosh is a vital part of the Cougar run-game, splitting plays with fellow senior running back Max Borghi. 

“We fully hope to get Deon back in the mix this week,” Dickert said.

Arizona State splits their rushing plays between three separate running backs, creating a very dynamic offensive playbook. Senior running back Rachaad White leads the Sun Devils with 477 yards in 86 attempts. 

White is followed by freshman Daniyel Ngata with 253 yards in 38 attempts. Bringing up the rear is sophomore DeaMonte Trayanum with 215 yards in 41 attempts.

If White can break tackles like BYU running back Tyler Allgeier did last week, Arizona State will have no problem moving the chains downfield. 

A difference-maker in the Arizona State offense is tight end Curtis Hodges. Hodges leads the team in receiving yards with 330 yards in 16 attempts. 

The tight end averages a lengthy 20.6 yards per catch, able to gain yards after first contact with the defense. The 6-foot-8 senior is able to use his large stature to block for White on run plays as well, something that WSU is missing with no tight end on the roster.  

Furthering the dynamic aspect of the Arizona State offense is quarterback Jayden Daniels’ dual-threat capabilities. So far this season, Daniels has 1,506 passing yards and 401 rushing yards. Daniels’ 401 rushing yards are the second-most rushing yards on the team.

Because of Daniels’ ability to run downfield, WSU’s secondary will have to prioritize quarterback containment. WSU linebacker Jahad Woods will be an important factor in stopping Daniels downfield. So far this season, Woods has moved up in the WSU record books and is now fifth all-time in career tackles with 380. 

“I think he was locked in, and he was ready to go, and I think he was flying around against BYU,” Dickert said about Woods’ performance last weekend.

The WSU defense should expect to see a lot of quarterback option plays, a consistent way Arizona State has gained yards throughout the season. 

Both WSU and Arizona State defensive units are doing a great job of forcing turnovers so far this season. WSU has a total of seven interceptions and 14 forced fumbles. Arizona State has a total of ten interceptions and two forced fumbles.

“We need to be more aggressive in the core, that d-tackle group and our inside linebacker group,” Dickert said. “We need to be more physical, more aggressive and do more attacking.”

WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura and wide receivers Travell Harris and Calvin Jackson Jr. will be the players to watch for the Cougar offense. De Laura has the most success when Harris and Jackson Jr. are catching passes, combining for a total of 1,053 yards and nine touchdowns between the pair of veteran receivers. 

The game will be nationally televised with coverage beginning at noon Saturday on Fox Sports 1.