Arizona State: Keys to Victory Against Washington State
The Arizona State Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1) will travel to Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash., on Halloween to take on the Washington State Cougars (4-4, 2-3).
The Sun Devils come into Thursday's game having won two straight, including their most impressive win of the season against the Washington Huskies. They held Bishop Sankey, who was the nation's leading rusher at the time, to just 22 yards on 13 carries. Moreover, the defense held the Huskies to just 212 total yards.
ASU is coming off of a bye week after wins against Colorado and Washington. Washington State is also coming off of a bye week but come in having lost two straight contests to Oregon State and Oregon.
ASU has outscored the Cougars 183-58 in the last five contests, including two shutouts in 2008 and 2010, according to Sun Devil Athletics. Arizona State leads the all-time series 24-13-2.
Here are some keys to victory for the Sun Devils as they continue to work towards their first Pac-12 South title.
Date: October 31, 2013
Where: Martin Stadium, Pullman, Wash.
Time: 10:30 ET/7:30 PT
Run the Ball; Kill the Clock
The Sun Devils average just under 84 plays per game, good for No. 12 in the country. However, according to Team Rankings, they average about 30 minutes of possession per game.
Add that to the fact they score over 45 points a game and you get an offense that can score in a hurry.
Running back Marion Grice is ASU's leading rusher, and is tied for the most rushing touchdowns (12) in the FBS. According to Sun Devil Athletics, Grice is also the nation's leading scorer with 18 total touchdowns.
The Sun Devil offense has only gone 3-and-out on 22-of-102 drives (21.6 percent), a total that currently ranks tied for 11th nationally.
Keeping the ball on the ground with Grice while mixing in the read-option with Kelly will keep the clock moving and the ball out of Halliday's hands.
Help Kelly, Help You
Running the ball successfully will also take the stress off of Kelly. ASU is 1-2 when Kelly attempts more than 47 passes.
Kelly attempted 51 passes in the controversial win against Wisconsin on Sept. 14.
Last week was the first time all season Kelly threw more than 40 passes and came away with a win. The ground attack has gained more yards than Kelly in the past two games, which are also the only two games he didn't throw for more than 300 yards.
This kind of balance helped Oregon beat Washington State on Oct. 19. The Ducks gained 327 yards through the air, and another 383 yards on the ground.
They Will Throw It, All Game Long
It's no secret the Cougars like to throw the football.
Last week, Connor Halliday broke Drew Brees' record for pass attempts in a game, throwing the ball 89 times in the Cougars' 62-38 loss to the Ducks. Halliday also attempted 65 passes against Auburn and 67 against Cal.
Halliday is currently third in the nation in terms of passing yards (2,798) and first in attempts (428). He averages 53 pass attempts per game.
Washington State is currently last in the FBS in rushing yards per game (58.4) and have only attempted 145 rushes the entire season.
Unless the Cougars offensive scheme has changed since the Oregon game, it would be safe for ASU to vacate the box and leave three or four linemen to pressure Halliday.
Win the Turnover Battle
When you throw the ball as much as the Cougars do, there are bound to be interceptions.
Halliday leads all quarterbacks with 17 interceptions, 11 of which have come in Washington State's four losses this season. The Cougars are minus-six in turnover margin as a team.
On the other side, the Sun Devils are plus-six in turnover margin. Five different players have at least one interception, and the defense has also recovered six fumbles.
The Sun Devils haven't won the turnover battle in all of their victories this season, but doing so keeps Halliday off the field, and ASU's high-scoring offense on it.
Stay on the Path
Sun Devil Athletics says a win against the Cougars would make ASU bowl-eligible before November for just the third time in the last 10 years. However, the Devils have their eyes set on something bigger.
UCLA has lost two straight conference games to Stanford and Oregon, giving Arizona State some cushion. The result of of the UCLA-Arizona game will also be a factor in the Sun Devils' title run.
Five more wins and ASU will play for the conference title. If they lost on Thursday to the Cougars, then won their remaining four games, they would still get a shot at the Pac-12 championship.
The fate of the Pac-12 South title is in ASU's hands. If the Sun Devils play the way they did against the Huskies on Oct. 19, they could easily be looking at a shot for the automatic Rose Bowl bid.