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Two-minute drill: Keys to victory for Washington State against No. 18 Arizona State

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 11, 2019

Don’t take your eyes off …

One of the defensive depth chart moves Washington State made during the bye week, and on the heels of Tracy Claeys’ resignation, was dropping Skyler Thomas back to safety and elevating a redshirt freshman, Patrick Nunn, into the starting nickel back job. While the smaller Thomas (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) gave WSU speed at the nickel position, Nunn (6-4, 210) offers a rare blend of strength, size and athleticism that the Cougars didn’t have with their former starter, or the one before that – new defensive quality control assistant Hunter Dale. Nunn has fluctuated between positions this season, playing either nickel or safety depending on the Cougars’ package, and had the best game of his young career against Houston, recording four tackles and one tackle for loss. Earlier in the week, offensive lineman Josh Watson also identified Nunn as someone who spoke in front of the Cougars before a team meeting after the Utah loss.

When WSU has the ball …

There’s a good chance the Cougars won’t have top “Y” receiver Brandon Arconado at their disposal for the second straight game. Arconado, who suffered a lower-body injury in the UCLA game, was the team’s leader in receiving yards before WSU’s game at Utah, but the Air Raid offense staggered without him in the fold – the Cougars scoring just 13 points and national passing leader Anthony Gordon throwing one touchdown compared to two interceptions. If Arconado isn’t available, WSU won’t necessarily go to the next player on the depth chart at “Y” but instead move one of their two “H” receivers, Travell Harris or Renard Bell, into the spot Arconado usually occupies. Earlier in the week, head coach Mike Leach said “even if we play with three, if Arconado gets back, we’d like to have the backup at either one be Bell or Travell.” Redshirt freshman Kassidy Woods, a 6-4 target who emerged during spring camp, would be the team’s next option at “Y.”

When ASU has the ball …

Herm Edwards’ offense has a seasoned ball carrier in his backfield with junior Eno Benjamin, one of college football’s top rushers last season (1,642 yards), but the Sun Devils are young elsewhere and not just at quarterback. True freshman Jayden Daniels will make his third Pac-12 start since joining ASU from Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California, where he was an Elite 11 finalist as a high school player and the third-ranked dual-threat QB in his recruiting class. It’ll be ideal if the Cougars can force Daniels into passing situations and limit his mobility. Of Pac-12 starting quarterbacks, Daniels ranks No. 10 with an efficiency rating of 145.9, and he’s thrown for just five touchdowns – four fewer than Gordon threw in the Cougars’ conference opener against UCLA. ASU also starts two true freshmen on the offensive line, left tackle LaDarius Henderson and right guard Dohnovan West.

Did you know?

Last season, when ASU’s Benjamin accumulated a conference-high 1,642 rushing yards, he moved into the conference’s top 25 for most in a single Pac-12 season and bumped a former WSU running back out of the 24th spot. That, of course, was Reuben Mayes, who rushed for five fewer yards during a prolific 1984 season, when the Canadian tailback also earned conference player of the year honors and was named a consensus All-American. The same season, Mayes set was what then a league record for single-game rushing yards with 357 against Oregon. Benjamin couldn’t top that mark, but he did have a 300-yard game in 2018, rushing for 312 and three touchdowns against Oregon State.

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