The kickoff: Washington State (2-8, 0-8) at Arizona State (5-5, 3-4), noon in Tempe, Ariz. Game televised by Pac-12 Networks. The betting line is Arizona State by 19.
About Arizona State: What was once hailed as one of the great performances by a first-year coach in Todd Graham has dissipated somewhat as Arizona State enters Saturday’s game on a four-game losing streak. Not that it’s surprising for the once 5-1 Sun Devils. Among ASU’s past four opponents were Oregon, Oregon State and USC.
Arizona State’s path to 5-5 is not unexpected. The Sun Devils have beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat (Northern Arizona, Illinois, California and Colorado), pulled a bit of a surprise with the lopsidedness of a 37-7 win over Utah, and lost to the good teams on their schedule. ASU remains on track to qualify for a bowl game, which happens Saturday should it beat Washington State, or win the season finale against Arizona.
Where the Sun Devils excel is in the area of defensive pressure. Arizona State ranks second in the country in sacks (average four per game) and tackles for loss (avg. 8.8). Will Sutton leads the Pac-12 with 10½ sacks, and right behind is Carl Bradford with 8½. ASU has four players with at least five sacks this season.
Defense is Arizona State’s strength. The Sun Devils are giving up 344 yards per game, second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford. Yet it’s not impossible to score on ASU, has the Sun Devils’ past four opponents have each scored at least 36 points.
Offensively, Arizona State has a running back-by-committee approach, as Cameron Marshall, D.J. Foster and Marion Grice range between 331 to 428 rushing yards this season. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is quietly effective, as he’s completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,335 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Sun Devils’ top receiver is Chris Coyle, with 48 catches for 586 yards and three touchdowns.
Last year: If Connor Halliday is WSU’s quarterback this Saturday, it can’t come against a better opponent. Last season, Halliday torched Arizona State for 494 yards and four touchdowns as the Cougars beat Arizona State 37-27 in Pullman. Halliday’s favorite target was Marquess Wilson, who caught eight passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. The Sun Devils took a 27-23 lead into the fourth quarter, but a pair of touchdowns during the final nine minutes capped the WSU comeback.
The series: WSU’s win over Arizona State ended a seven-game losing streak to the Sun Devils. The last time the Cougars won in Tempe was 2001, a 28-16 victory. Overall, Arizona State leads the series 23-13-2.
Familiar faces: Arizona State has three Washingtonians on its roster in junior safety Chris Young (Seattle), junior defensive tackle C.J. Ryan (Seattle) and freshman tight end Alex Bykovskiy (Federal Way). Two ASU assistant coaches have Washington State ties. Defensive backs coach Chris Ball had several stints at WSU, including one as co-defensive coordinator for four years under Paul Wulff, and offensive line coach Bob Connelly, a Cougars assistant in 2001-02.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel