Arizona State vs. Washington State: Players Who Will Decide Pac-12 Matchup

Jesse ReedCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2013

Sep 14, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) drops back to pass while UNLV Rebels defensive lineman Parker Holloway (90) rushes during the second quarter at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn't get much better than college football on Halloween, and there's a fantastic Pac-12 matchup on the schedule Thursday night. Arizona State is in Pullman, Washington to face Washington State tonight in a game the Sun Devils must win to stay atop the Pac-12 South. 

Fresh off an impressive home victory over Washington last weekend, ASU has won two straight games to get to 5-2 on the season and 3-1 within the Pac-12. 

Washington State has lost two in a row, and the Cougars are in a bit of a slump, having lost three of their last four games after opening the season 3-1. Now at 4-4, this team needs a win just to get back to .500 in the conference.

Both teams feature a loaded roster full of talented young players, but there's no doubt there are a few special players who will have a say in the final score.

Here's a look at the key players who will decide the game.


Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 19: Quarterback Connor Halliday #12 of the Washington State Cougars passes the ball during the third quarter of the game against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Washington State throws the ball approximately 70 percent of the time on offense, meaning there isn't a more critical player to this team's success than quarterback Connor Halliday. 

Halliday went off for 557 yards and four touchdowns last weekend against Oregon, giving his team a fighting chance against the No. 2 team in the nation.

However, just as he's done all year long, he turned the ball over carelessly with four interceptions.

For the season, Halliday has passed for 2,798 yards with 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. 

If he can put up huge numbers without also turning the ball over, then his team will have a chance to pull out of its losing funk.


Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

Given the explosive nature of Washington State's offense, the Sun Devils will likely be in an offensive shootout tonight.

This means Jaelen Strong should be heavily featured in Arizona State's game plan, and the physical receiver out of Philadelphia is more than up to the task. 

Before sputtering with a three-catch, seven-yard performance in the team's last game against the Huskies, Strong had put together five straight 100-plus-yard games. For the season, he's caught 45 passes for 685 yards with four touchdowns.

Washington State's defense isn't known for being stout against the pass, meaning Strong should have a monster game.


Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State

PULLMAN, WA - NOVEMBER 23:  Wide receiver Gabe Marks #84 of the Washington State Cougars carries the ball against cornerback Marcus Peters #21 of the Washington Huskies at Martin Stadium on November 23, 2012 in Pullman, Washington.  (Photo by William Manc
William Mancebo/Getty Images

Like Strong, Gabe Marks has a knack for absolutely lighting opposing secondaries up for huge gains. 

He's Halliday's favorite weapon in the passing game. He is coming off one of his top performances of the season against Oregon. In that game, he caught 13 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Marks had another huge game earlier this year against Idaho, catching 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

For the season, Marks has caught 59 passes for 655 yards and five touchdowns. The speedy sophomore will surely add to those totals tonight at home against ASU.


Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

Oct 19, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils defensive tackle Will Sutton (90) signals to the crowd as Washington Huskies offensive linesman Mike Criste (78) looks on during first half at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA T
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State features one of the nation's stingiest pass defenses, allowing just 205.3 yards per game. This strength-versus-strength matchup against the high-powered aerial attack of Washington State should be interesting.

The man who can tip the scales in favor of ASU is defensive tackle Will Sutton.

Sutton was a wrecking ball last season, racking up 13 sacks.

However, he's been much quieter this season, tallying just two sacks. He has come alive in recent games, though, and will have a great chance to thrown Halliday off his game by providing consistent pressure up the middle. 


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