We pull together a lot of items each Friday for our Saturday morning game day, along with the advance story we run each week. We have the unedited version of both on the link. Read on.
• UPDATE: Earlier this afternoon I received a call that included a request for an update on the injury situation. As I alluded to in the info below, there are some spots where the WSU guys are either out, or nicked up. Here is the update, starting on offense. … Jared Karstetter was moving well yesterday and would be expected to start. Karstetter had to leave last Saturday’s game with a hip problem and really didn’t practice until Wednesday. But he seems to be better and will play. … Jeff Tuel will start at quarterback. … Dwight Tardy left the Oregon game with a shoulder stinger. He tried to get back in, Paul Wulff said, but running back coach Steve Broussard said no. He’ll play this week. … The offensive line, from across the front, will be Tyson Pencer at left tackle, Alex Reitnouer at left guard, Kenny Alfred at center, Joe Eppele at right guard and Micah Hannam at right tackle. Brian Danaher wore yellow all week but did scrimmage some and should play, probably a lot. … On defense, Bernard Wolfgramm is out with his hip injury – he should be back for Cal – so the top six on the defensive front will include three freshmen, a transfer from Western Washington and a senior, Jesse Feagin, who is finally playing consistently. Senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman is still out and is contemplating redshirting and returning next year for a full season. … Alex Hoffman-Ellis is still recuperating from a staph infection on his arm and won’t play at middle linebacker. Louis Bland will start. … The secondary is as healthy as it’s been since the early season losses of LaAndre Daniels and Tyree Toomer. … Backup kicker Kevin Rooney is out with a hip flexor. You know a team is hard hit by injuries when its backup kicker is out. … That’s the list.
• Here’s the advance story …
PULLMAN – During Washington State University’s 31-0 defeat last year at Arizona State, the Cougars managed a season-low seven rushing yards.
They weren’t that bad, however. WSU actually gained 49 yards on 21 carries.
But the Cougars lost 42 on three sacks, including one that ended in a fumble that defensive tackle Lawrence Guy scooped up and carried 22 yards for game-clinching touchdown.
Today, the Sun Devils (2-2 overall, 0-1 in Pac-10 play) will come into Martin Stadium for WSU’s homecoming with just three sacks – total.
Senior defensive end Dexter Davis, who had 11 sacks last season, including two against WSU (1-4, 0-3), and 27.5 for his career, has yet to record one. In fact, the entire defensive line has just one.
So where has the rush gone?
It might have been put on the back burner for a purpose, WSU coach Paul Wulff said this week.
“They want to prevent the big play because that’s been their nemesis right now,” said Wulff, who thinks the Sun Devils will attack aggressively today. “The games they’ve lost, they’ve given up a few big plays. They also haven’t scored a lot on offense so the big plays have really stood out for them.”
Or their opponents aren’t the type of teams you sack much.
“They also haven’t faced a team that truly tries to throw the ball all the time,” Wulff added. “I think that’s limited a little bit their sack totals.”
Wherever the pass rush has gone, ASU coach Dennis Erickson, the former Cougar coach, wants it back. Its absence, he believes, contributed to ASU’s 28-17, Pac-10-opening defeat last week at home to Oregon State.
“The pass rush is another phase of the game that was disappointing,” Erickson said.
Despite the disappearing sacks, the Sun Devils defense is still the best in the Pac-10 statistically, giving up just 232 yards a game. It ranks first in pass defense and second, to USC, in rush defense.
Wulff, however, thinks they are at all phases.
“They have a very, very stout defensive line and linebacking corps,” he said. “In fact, the stoutest we’ve faced. I think they’re probably stouter than USC in terms of defending the run and in terms of just their physical presence along the line and their inside linebackers.”
• And here is all game day stuff …
Arizona State at Washington State
Kickoff: 2 p.m., Martin Stadium
TV: None; Radio: KXLY 920-AM
• Tale of the tape
Washington State Cougars
Record: 0-3 Pac-10, 1-4 Overall
Coach: Paul Wulff, second season
Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 0-1 Pac-10, 2-2 Overall
Coach: Dennis Erickson, third season
Arizona State 31, WSU 0
Last week: WSU lost to Oregon, 52-6
Arizona State lost to Oregon State, 28-17
Series: Arizona State leads 21-12-2
When the Cougars run: Once again the WSU offensive line will go into the game with some unfamiliar faces playing unfamiliar spots. The Pac-10’s least productive rushing offense will also be facing its second-best rushing defense, as the Sun Devils yield just 75 yards a game. Freshman Carl Winston played for the first time last week and led the Cougars with 56 yards on seven carries. On the other side of the ball will be another true freshman, middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has 22 tackles and even more rave reviews. EDGE: ASU
When the Cougars pass: The key for WSU here is probably just keeping Jeff Tuel upright. The freshman quarterback and the Cougar offense has a shot at some big plays if the offensive line can give him time. Though the Sun Devils lead the Pac-10 in pass defense, they have given up some long completions. Part of that may be their propensity to gamble. The Sun Devils have nine interceptions this year, including three each by star linebacker Mike Nixon and free safety Jarrell Holman. Corner Omar Bolden may be out this week. EDGE: ASU
When the Sun Devils run: Though the Cougars are last in the conference in run defense, they’ve done a good job containing power teams this season. That will be tested today, especially with the loss the past two weeks of run stuffers Josh Luapo and Bernard Wolfgramm. However, the ASU offensive line is also banged up and it hasn’t been able to move anyone recently, with the Sun Devils averaging just 118 yards a game on the ground. EDGE: WSU
When the Sun Devils pass: Despite the rumblings in the desert, quarterback Danny Sullivan and the ASU receivers have moved the ball well through the air. The Sun Devils are averaging 220 yards a game, though much of the yardage is coming in small chunks (ASU averages just 5.8 yards an attempt). So look for Sullivan and backup Brock Osweiler, who coach Dennis Erickson said will play, to try to stretch the field more today against a WSU pass defense that is last in the conference. EDGE: ASU
Coaching/intangibles: It’s homecoming in Pullman, so you would expect a big crowd, but big is a relative term this season. It won’t be a sellout. It’s also going to be cool, which should bother the Sun Devils more than WSU. But this is an ASU team that is embarrassed by its home defeat to Oregon State last week. And the defense, one of the best in the Pac-10, wasn’t happy with the 28 points OSU scored. It’s also a team coached by Erickson, who has been doing this successfully in college for 21 years. EDGE: ASU
October weather: The average highs in Pullman this time of year hover in the 50s, with fall finally getting a strong grip on the temperature gauge by the end of the month. Usually, by Halloween, the shorts and golf clubs are back in storage. In the Valley of the Sun, the stranglehold summer’s heat has on the area finally starts to break, with the highs reaching into the 80s instead of triple digits. It’s ideal golfing weather – or anything else outdoors for that matter. EDGE: ASU
• Three things to watch
Keys to today’s Washington State-Arizona State matchup
1. The battles up front: When the Sun Devils tossed a shutout last season, their defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage. The Cougars rushed for just seven yards, a low point in a season of low points. It will be crucial for the Cougars to move the ball better on the ground if only to take pressure off Jeff Tuel and the passing game. When ASU has the ball, watch the inside of the Cougar defense, with freshmen Anthony Laurenzi and Dan Spitz along with junior Toby Turpin trying to stuff the Sun Devils’ running game. If the trio, who will rotate in, can get a push, ASU may have trouble moving the ball.
2. Arizona State’s quarterbacks: There will be two today if Dennis Erickson is a man of his word. Senior Danny Sullivan may be fourth in the Pac-10 in passing yards, but he’s 10th in passing efficiency, and that’s opened the door for true freshman Brock Osweiler, from Kalispel, Mont. Using two quarterbacks can be tricky, as the Cougars know, so it will be interesting to note when, or even if, the 6-foot-8 Osweiler makes an appearance. It could either stunt ASU’s momentum or kick-start it.
3. The kicking games: ASU came into the season with one of the nation’s best, Thomas Weber. But he’s injured, and the Devils are going with a freshman in Bobby Wenzig. Wenzig, who was slated to redshirt, has done a fine job on field goals, hitting 3 of 4 with a long of 43 yards, but he’s struggled on kickoffs, with no touchbacks and 20 percent going out of bounds. The Cougars’ Nico Grasu has added the kickoff chores recently and done well, with 3 of 9 not returned. But he’s struggled with placements, missing a couple extra points and three relatively short field goals.
• Three names to know
ARIZONA STATE DEFENSIVE END
The senior from Phoenix is struggling this year, though the word is he’s been double teamed by every opponent. Still, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive end has beaten double teams before. Last year he broke through twice to sack WSU quarterbacks, including knocking Kevin Lopina from the game in the second quarter. But this year Davis, one of three Sun Devil captains, has just seven tackles and no sacks, a big reason why the ASU defense hasn’t been as disruptive. Expect Davis, who has 27.5 career sacks, to try mightily to raise both those totals today.
The last time Washington State played at Martin Stadium, Beck was seen returning an interception 67 yards for a key score against Southern Methodist. Since then the backup linebacker’s playing time has been limited, but he still is one of only 11 Cougars in double figures in tackles, with 11. Beck played his high school football with wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon at Ingraham in Seattle before spending a year at a California junior college. After starting the first three games at safety last year, the 6-foot, 209-pounder played a backup role, finishing the year with 34 tackles and an interception. This season he’s not only backing up as an outside linebacker, he’s being used as a fifth defensive back in certain situations.
ARIZONA STATE WIDE RECEIVER
Williams caught just two passes against the Cougars last season, but both were big. The first was a 21-yard scoring strike that built the ASU lead to 17-0 after halftime. The other was a 51-yard, catch-and-run 8 minutes later that sealed the deal for the Sun Devils. This year the 5-10, 186-pound senior is a key element of ASU’s passing game, having caught 18 passes. He’s also still a deep threat, averaging 13.4 yards a catch, with a long of 44 yards. He’s also has run the ball once, but just for 4 yards.
• This and that from today’s game …
The Sun Devils have won five consecutive games in the series. But that’s not unusual. Since 1987, the teams have traded off winning streaks of at least three games each. … There are 114 players on WSU’s roster. Only 37 of them have been at the school for more than two years. … ASU senior receiver Chris McGaha had 15 receptions for a career-high 165 yards last week against Oregon State. … If senior running back Dwight Tardy carries the ball at least 10 times today, he’ll pass Jerome Harrison on the Cougar career rushing attempts list. Tardy has 473 carries in his four seasons. Harrison had 482 in two. … Danny Sullivan had his best statistically game against the Beavers, completing 32 of 58 passes for 338 yards, all career highs. … When Omar Bolden, who is questionable for today’s game, returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe, it was the first time that’s been done at ASU.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back tomorrow with our coverage. Until then …