TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils football team has a tough test Saturday with the Washington State Cougars defense.
And if ASU (3-6; 2-4 at Pac-12) has any hope of becoming eligible for the bowl, it will have to play at the table and win the remaining three games, starting with WSU.
Washington State has been a different team since Jake Dickert took over as interim head coach last season with his first 34-21 win over ASU at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Now, with the interim tag removed, Dickert and Co. are at 5-4 (2-4 in the Pac-12) and boast the nation’s 23rd defense with 20 points allowed per competition.
A big part of this is down to Washington State’s #31 running defense, which only allows for 122.9 yards on the ground per game.
“They’re a very petty defense,” ASU interim coach Shaun Aguano said Monday. “They fit well into the running game. They are playing very well defensively there. Their coach is a defensive guy, so I think the emphasis is on the defensive side.”
Sun Devils quarterback Trenton Bourguet will have the opportunity to lead the charge against a Cougars defense that currently allows for 238.4 yards per game with a 63% clip. The QB averaged 322 yards and a 75% completion percentage in his three games (two games) this season.
However, Bourguet will want left-back LaDarius Henderson to come back from injury after missing the last three games with a finger disease. Washington state has 23 sacks this season, the 32nd highest in the country with an average of 2.56 per game.
The WSU also ranks 42nd in the nation for third-down defense, only allowing opponents to convert 35.7% of the time.
Third-down conversion is an issue ASU struggled with all season with just a 40.2% clip. That metric jumped to 52.5% (21 out of 40) in games where Bourguet is at the center.
“They bring pressure and they bring all kinds of pressure up front and you have to manage that in the passing game,” said Aguano. “Our guys were here (Sunday) night and early (Monday) trying to figure this out. … So we have our work cut out for us this week, but let’s go back and plan and get these guys ready to go.”
And despite allowing for 361.3 yards per game, the red zone is when Washington state’s defense is at its best.
Tied for 31st in the nation, the Cougars allowed just 17 touchdowns and eight field goals on 32 (78.1%) trips, while seven drives resulted in no points. On the other hand, Arizona State has the 37th-best offense in the red zone with 24 touchdowns and seven field goals on 35 trips (88.6%).
And luckily for the Sun Devils, they seem to have avoided a wet, rainy game from the Pacific Northwest this season.
Instead, the forecast at Pullman points to a high of 37 degrees, sunny skies and 5 mph winds. Regardless, the interim coach isn’t paying much attention to this.
“It’s not snowing, it’s not raining. It’s going to be a little cold,” Aguano said. “I’m going to be packed outside. It will not (will) bring you to them. Let’s go out and take care of business. So how do you want to dress and feel comfortable, but I won’t talk about that during the week.”
Kick off is scheduled for 1:30 pm on Arizona Sports 98.7, the Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.