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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU takes on ASU both on and off the field

Coach Mike Leach’s remarks about ASU’s alleged sign stealing cost him $10,000. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

TEMPE, Ariz. – And so Washington State, having decided that it prefers the bully hat to the victim cap, takes its aggressive act to Arizona State, hoping to once again disrobe a longtime tormenter.

Then again, maybe some Pac-12 coaches see the Cougars as cape-less heroes, willing to call out the conference’s rogues and give them a whipping, to boot.

WSU’s style now is to insult programs it thinks are deserving, then undress them on the football field.

First, WSU coach Mike Leach poked fun at the oxfords-and-brogues sensibilities of the Stanford fan base, saying the arena was a “bring your own energy” kind of place. Then the Cougars pummeled the Cardinal into their own turf, quieting what fans did bother showing up to prove him wrong.

Now, Leach has turned his sights on the Sun Devils, saying they go beyond the accepted practices regarding sign stealing and have a “command center” devoted to the recording and deciphering of other team’s play signals.

ASU coach Todd Graham responded in spirit, telling reporters, “Make this perfectly clear: We do everything exactly by the rules. Period. Obviously, we take a great deal of pride in the integrity that our program has. I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not going to get involved in things like that that are ridiculous.”

Those aforementioned claims earned Leach a $10,000 fine from the conference, which is a light enough slap on the wrist to be worth a $3 million-per-year coach’s time when he wants to make a point.

Many coaches have said that all teams steal signs and that the onus is on a coach to prevent his signals from getting pilfered. But, many teams have also signaled out the Sun Devils as a team that pushes or crosses the bounds of what is normal and legal.

So the Cougars have started another fight, and once again they will hope to finish it on the field. WSU is about a touchdown favorite in Saturday’s game, despite having lost 10 of their last 12 games against ASU and not having won in Sun Devil Stadium since 2001.

WSU is on a four-game winning streak, while the Sun Devils have lost two of their last three games. Neither of those losses came at home, however, where ASU is still undefeated this year.

The Sun Devils had a potent offense, but have not scored more than 23 points in any of their last three games. WSU’s season-low is 27 points scored, which is how many the offense put up in last week win over UCLA.

Where the Sun Devils have been vulnerable is on defense. Teams have minced the ASU passing defense, and the team is no longer the pass-rushing terror it was even last season, when it led the conference in sacks.

“They blitz a little less,” Leach said. “They’re still a really fast team. That’s the biggest thing. They’re great against the run, they’re one of the top in the conference at run defense. They’re pretty big and one of the fastest teams in the conference.”

Now wait a second. Those sounded like compliments. Maybe Leach and the Cougars are not so mean after all. Perhaps they just call it like they see it, and lately the surging Cougars have been letting a depressed Pac-12 hear about their complaints on and off the football field.

As long as the Cougars keep winning, who is going to argue with them?