1 The Cougars shuffled their starting defensive tackles last week, moving Anthony Laurenzi into the lineup instead of Brandon Rankin. The 6-foot-5, 281-pound Rankin has struggled lately – he has just 15 tackles, three for loss, and one sack – and the Cardinal had targeted his position, the three-technique, or aggressive, tackle spot. “Whether you’re a junior college transfer or a high school player, that first year of play in (major) college football is not an easy one for anybody,” said coach Paul Wulff, adding Rankin has been dealing with some health issues. Rankin will start this week, but expect Laurenzi and another JC transfer, Steven Hoffart, to rotate in.
2 If there has been one area a young Washington State team has performed beyond expectations, it has to be in penalties. Most inexperienced teams struggle with flags, but WSU is an exception. The Cougars lead the Pac-10 and are among the nation’s leaders, in fewest penalties, being hit with only 49.4 yards per game. The Sun Devils, as has been a tradition with Dennis Erickson-coached teams, go the other way, having been called for a Pac-10-high 75.6 yards per game. That 26 yards is one of the few edges WSU has in its attempt to pull an upset.
3 The last week in Pullman has been typical of late October, cool, cloudy and occasionally wet. When the Cougars got off the plane in Phoenix on Friday, they were met with sun and 90-degree temperatures. Today’s 4 p.m. game should start in the heat, but could be comfortable by the second half. “I don’t envision that is going to be an issue,” Wulff said, “unless one side of the ball is on the field a lot longer.” To avoid that, WSU’s defense is concentrating on third-down efficiency – WSU has struggled here, allowing first downs 47.7 percent of the time – and forcing turnovers – Arizona State has turned the ball over 17 times, second most in the Pac-10.
4 There are quite a few connections between these two football programs, and it goes deeper than Wulff having played for Erickson at Washington State in the late 1980s. Many of the ASU assistants have Pullman ties, including former Washington State running back Steve Broussard, who left the WSU coaching ranks to join Erickson after last season. Long-time assistants Gregg Smith and Craig Bray, and Bray’s son, Trent, have WSU or Pullman roots. Trent Bray played at Pullman High and then at Oregon State for Erickson. Plus, defensive tackle Bo Moos is the son of Cougars athletic director Bill, and receiver Aaron Pflugrad, son of former Cougars assistant and now Montana head coach Robin Pflugrad, grew up in Pullman and helped lead the Greyhounds to a state football title as a junior. He played at Oregon before transferring to Arizona State.