PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Washington State has shown it can beat the bottom tier teams in the Pac-12. No. 25 Arizona State has shown it can win at home.
Both teams move out of their comfort zones on Thursday night when Arizona State (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) plays at Washington State (4-4, 2-3).
The Sun Devils are 5-0 at home this season, but have lost both their road contests. Coach Todd Graham has little patience for the usual talk about the challenges of playing on the road.
“That’s all excuses,” Graham said. “You don’t win on the road because you’re not prepared, you’re not focused and you don’t play well. That’s it.”
The Sun Devils’ last game was a rout of then-No. 20 Washington, a victory that moved them back into the rankings and into control of the Pac-12 South race. After playing in Pullman, Arizona State still has games at Utah and UCLA, which could go a long way toward helping them reach their goal of winning the Pac-12 championship.
Meanwhile, Washington State has beaten Southern California and California this year. But the Cougars were pounded by No. 6 Stanford, Oregon State and No. 2 Oregon. They need to show they can compete with the league’s better teams.
“We are two wins from a bowl game,” center Elliott Bosch said. “We have to have a good strong finish.”
Arizona State is second behind Oregon in the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging 45 points per game behind quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back Marion Grice.
Washington State gave up 55, 52 and 62 points in losing to Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon. Linebacker Justin Sagote said the defense needs to communicate better.
“We’ve had a lack of communication on defense,” Sagote said. “That hurt us in some games.”
The Sun Devils sacked WSU quarterbacks seven times last season in a 46-7 rout. The Cougars have a better offensive line this season.
“We’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re more experienced,” coach Mike Leach said.
Five things to watch when Arizona State travels to Washington State:
BYE BYE: Both teams are coming off their first bye weeks of the season. After facing physical teams like Wisconsin, Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington in a little over a month, Graham gave his players a chance to recover by practicing without pads for the entire week. “I’ve never done what I did this past week, taking the pads off the entire week to try to heal them up,” Graham said. The Cougars opened with eight consecutive games before their first bye, and Leach gave his players until last Thursday off. “It was relaxing to get our bodies right,” Sagote said.
MARAUDING MARION: Grice is leading the nation in scoring with an average of 15 points per game, thanks to 18 touchdowns. There are seven teams in the nation averaging fewer points per game. Grice also leads the nation in red zone scoring with 11 touchdowns.
THREE AND OUT: Arizona State is forcing opponents into an average of 6.7 three-and-out drives per game, ranked fourth nationally.
HALLIDAY IN PULLMAN: It was two years ago in Pullman that Washington State QB Connor Halliday had a breakthrough game, coming off the bench as a freshman to throw for 494 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-27 victory. But the Sun Devils have won eight of the past nine meetings between the teams.
WSU PASSING: The Cougars are ranked No. 6 in the nation in passing with 373 yards per game, as Halliday has thrown for 2,798 yards so far. They are on pace to set school records in pass attempts, completions and yards, and Halliday owns the top two passing marks in the FBS this season. In his last outing, he set an FBS record with 89 pass attempts at Oregon, completing 58 for 557 yards and four touchdowns.
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