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3 questions and a prediction: Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Washington State Cougars

Posted: 1:11 PM, Oct 21, 2016
Updated: 2016-10-21 20:11:17Z

Coming off a blowout defeat at Colorado last week, the Arizona State Sun Devils return home to face a red-hot Washington State Cougars team that beat them in Pullman last season.

Under coach Todd Graham, ASU has been a resilient group, as the Devils have an outstanding record at home following a loss (8-2 since 2013). 

ASU is 4-0 at home this season, but Washington State comes to Tempe riding a four-game winning streak. There's also a personal element to this game, as WSU coach Mike Leach accused ASU of having a "command center" for stealing opponents' signals and was then fined $10,000 for those comments.

So, this one should be fun. Who wins? Here are three questions and a prediction for ASU vs. WSU, which will begin Saturday at 7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks.

1. How healthy is Manny Wilkins?

ASU sophomore QB Manny Wilkins had easily the worst game of his collegiate career last weekend, completing just 13 of 35 passes for 149 yards at Colorado. Part of that performance has to be attributed to Wilkins' leg injury that had him hobbled for most of the second half.

Wilkins said he's fine heading into Saturday, but you have to wonder just how healthy he'll be when he takes the field. The good news is Wilkins should have time to throw, as Washington State is last in the Pac-12 in sacks (eight) and fourth-to-last in pass efficiency defense.

Can Wilkins get it going again in the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium where he has shined this season?

2. Can the Devils do anything to slow Luke Falk?

ASU enters Saturday's contest as the Pac-12's worst team in passing yards allowed per game and the third-worst in pass efficiency defense. Meanwhile, junior Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is averaging 352.2 passing yards per game, the fifth-highest total in the nation.

This is obviously an unfavorable combination heading into Saturday, but consider that the Sun Devils are 2-0 this season against pass-first teams with top-notch quarterbacks (Texas Tech and Cal). The Devils did just enough to beat Cal four weeks ago by disrupting QB Davis Webb, forcing a pair of late interceptions to seal their win over the Golden Bears.

On the downside, Falk has a 71.5 completion percentage on the season, the second best in the nation. He has thrown five interceptions this year, but is the Sun Devils' mediocre secondary likely to increase that total Saturday?

3. Which team will break through on the ground?

Led by juniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, ASU's once powerful rushing attack has been neutralized, as the Devils have been held to under 80 yards on the ground in each of their last three games. The Cougars are a pass-first team but have had similar struggles in the running game, as they've been limited to just 3 yards per carry in their last two games combined.

The Cougars and Devils both boast powerful rush defenses, as they're first and second in the Pac-12, respectively, in rushing yards allowed per game, and they're tied for second in rushing yards allowed per carry.

ASU depends a bit more on the run than Washington State does, but will either team find room to run Saturday, and will that prove to be the difference in the game?

Prediction:

I struggled mightily with my ASU-Cal prediction last month  (I ultimately picked the Sun Devils) because I thought Cal was a slightly better team but ASU is just so difficult to beat at home. This game presents a similar challenge.

Here's why I'm leaning toward Washington State: Cal has the Pac-12's worst rushing defense, and ASU took advantage by gaining 164 yards on the ground and setting up a balanced offensive attack. But as noted above, the Cougars are No. 1 in the conference in defending the run.

That stat could be the difference between the outcome of Saturday's game and last month's game vs. the Golden Bears. The Sun Devils may have to rely on the arm of a less-than-100 percent Wilkins to keep up with the Cougars, and that won't be a recipe for victory.

Washington State 37, Arizona State 30

 

 

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