Washington State throws on nearly every down. It’s at the core of why the offense led by Luke Falk goes by the nickname “Air Raid.”
Arizona State is big on the blitz and leads the Pac-12 in sacks.
Something will have to give when the Cougars (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) host the Sun Devils (4-4, 2-3) on Saturday.
“If we can protect Luke, he’s going to have a field day,” Washington State running back Jamal Morrow said.
Falk is averaging more than 400 yards per game through the air, and the Cougars have an array of good receivers.
But the Sun Devils rank second in the nation with 9.5 tackles for loss per game. They have 29 sacks on the season, three more than any other Pac-12 defense.
“They mix it around and they have different schemes and bring different people at different times,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said.
Arizona State poses a different kind of problem on the other side of the ball. The Cougars have been vulnerable to running quarterbacks this season, and Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici is focused on doing more damage with his legs.
“The quarterback has to use his legs in order for this offense to succeed at the highest level,” said Bercovici, who has rushed for four touchdowns this season.
Said safety Taylor Taliulu: “If we’re all in our right gaps, we should be gapped out and there should be no running lanes for anyone.”
Other things to watch when Washington State hosts Arizona State:
IT’S A STEAL: Leach said this week that the Pac-12 should investigate ASU for stealing opponents’ signals. “It’s one thing to just pick up a cue, it’s another thing to break it down as a science and film various things and carry it over from one year to the next and do some special analysis of it,” Leach said. ASU coach Todd Graham said there’s nothing wrong with what his team is doing. “Do we steal signals? Yeah, we do,” Graham said on the Pac-12 coaches’ conference call. “Do people steal our signals? Yeah they do.” The Pac-12 said it has received no formal request from a school for an inquiry.
GOING BOWLING: Washington State needs just one more win in an encouraging season to become bowl-eligible. The Cougars got close last week, coming within a missed field goal of upsetting No. 9 Stanford and getting that sixth win. “We have to flush it,” said offensive lineman Cole Madison. “We should have beat them. We’ve got to move forward.”
EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: That’s the catchy nickname for Washington State’s three running backs, who have combined for more than 720 yards rushing this season. Morrow this week explained the origin of each name: Earth is Gerard Wicks, a power runner. Fire is Keith Harrington, who brings explosiveness. Wind is Morrow, “Cool as the wind, yeah.”
WEATHER WATCH: Pullman weather can be dicey late in the season, and Bercovici is glad the sold-out game starts at 12:30 p.m. It snowed in Pullman on Thursday. “You can’t control the weather, so if it wants to snow, that’ll be fun,” he said. “We practice in the mornings so we’re very comfortable playing in the daytime.” Arizona State leads the series 26-13-2 and has won three straight. But the Sun Devils are 10-8 in Pullman.
CAREER ADVICE: Leach was asked Monday why he doesn’t run the ball more to eat up time when the Cougars have a lead late in the game, as they did against Stanford. “Why don’t we leave the strategy to me and leave writing the articles to you?” Leach said.
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