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First look: Washington State at No. 18 Arizona State

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 7, 2019

The Washington State Cougars will have to stop Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin if they hope to win. Benjamin has rushed for 394 yards and six touchdowns so far this season. (Ben Margot / AP)
The Washington State Cougars will have to stop Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin if they hope to win. Benjamin has rushed for 394 yards and six touchdowns so far this season. (Ben Margot / AP)

What is it? Washington State (3-2, 0-2) looks to break out of a two-game funk in Pac-12 play when it travels to face No. 18 Arizona State (4-1, 1-1).

Where is it? Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

When is it? Kickoff is 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where can I watch it? The game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.

Who is favored? ASU opened as a 3-point favorite.

How did they fare last week? The Cougars and Sun Devils were both idle. Previously, Washington State suffered a 38-13 loss to Utah in Salt Lake City, while Arizona State edged Cal 24-17 on the road Friday night.

Why WSU will win: If the Cougars can merely match their season average for scoring, they’ll have an opportunity to walk away with their first conference win. While ASU has shown some offensive improvement in Pac-12 play, the Sun Devils are still 10th in the conference, scoring 22.8 points per game – half as many as the Cougars, who are No. 1 in the league at 44.8 ppg. The Sun Devils have had one of the conference’s top defenses this season, but in five games, they’ve faced only one top-50 offense (Colorado) and haven’t encountered one that’s scoring more than 35 ppg. While the Cougars dropped consecutive Pac-12 games in 2016, they haven’t lost three in a row since 2014, which was also the last time WSU missed out on a postseason berth.

Why ASU will win: While Mike Leach believes Tracy Claeys’ sudden exit could be a spark for his football team, it’s anyone’s guess how a midseason defensive coordinator shakeup affects preparation and performance on game day. More pertinent than that, though, are all the areas in which the Cougars have struggled defensively this season. WSU hasn’t faced a truly prolific passing attack this season, yet the Cougars have given up 841 yards and seven touchdowns through the air the last two games. Jayden Daniels and the Sun Devils aren’t known for their aerial prowess, either, but ASU’s freshman QB, similar to UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Utah’s Tyler Huntley is a capable runner who can make things happen outside of the pocket and make the Cougars pay if they aren’t disciplined in pass coverage. WSU avoided Zack Moss in Salt Lake City, but the Cougars won’t be able to escape ASU’s Eno Benjamin, who’s rushed for 392 yards and six touchdowns this season.

What happened last time: Due to Pac-12 scheduling rotations, it’s been three full years since the Cougars and Sun Devils played. In 2016, WSU extended what would become an eight-game win streak with a 37-32 win over ASU in the desert. After Mike Leach accused Sun Devils coach Todd Graham of stealing signals during a midweek press conference, the Cougars and Luke Falk passed for 398 yards, while Gabe Marks made eight grabs for 107 yards and a touchdown. WSU trailed 14-3 early, but safety Robert Taylor made it a one-score game when he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, and the Cougars scored 28 consecutive points to lead by as many as 17.

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