Washington State hopes for defensive fix at No. 18 ASU
Field Level Mediaon
During its bye last week, No. 18 Arizona State moved up two spots in the AP poll, causing coach Herm Edwards to muse, "That doesn't make any sense."
Washington State, meanwhile, used its bye to try to make sense of its defense.
The Cougars (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) will introduce a new interim defensive coordinator and four new defensive starters as they attempt to give their high-powered Air Raid offense something to work with in a conference game at Arizona State (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday afternoon.
Washington State can move the ball. The Cougars lead the FBS in passing yards (450.0 per game), are fourth in total offense (546.8 yards per game) and are eighth in scoring (44.8 points per game). They reached No. 19 in the AP poll before the defense hemorrhaged, giving up 105 points in losing its two games before the bye as the team fell out of the rankings.
That stretch began when UCLA scored 50 points in the second half, including 29 in the fourth quarter, to overcome a 32-point deficit in a 67-63 victory on Sept. 21. A 38-13 loss at Utah followed.
"We didn't have any shortage of strategy. We had too much strategy," Washington State coach Mike Leach told reporters. "Everybody thinks there's some secret recipe. Well, it's never like that. It never has been."
Former linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni will be the Cougars' interim defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath will be the interim co-defensive coordinator after Tracy Claeys' resignation Friday.
"No matter what you're doing, you gotta keep an eye on (keeping things simple) as you go through the season," Leach said.
Washington State always has a passing threat, and this year it is redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Gordon, who leads the FBS with 2,146 passing yards and is tied for second with 22 touchdown passes while completing 72 percent of his throws. Wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. is tied for fourth in the FBS with eight touchdown catches.
Gordon will face an Arizona State defense that is giving up 325.8 yards a game, 222.2 through the air, and ranks tied for 11th in scoring defense at 14.4 points per game.
"Coaches always struggle with byes," Edwards said. "You get out of the mode of playing football. Sometimes bye weeks are good, but sometimes they can backfire on you, too, if you don't get yourself ready to play."
Arizona State halfback Eno Benjamin had his second 100-yard game of the season in a 24-17 victory at then-No. 15 Cal before the bye, rushing for three touchdowns. Benjamin has 11 career 100-yard games.
Sun Devils freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has completed 85 of 140 passes for 1,247 yards and five touchdowns with one interception this season, and he also has rushed for 175 yards, including a season-high 84 against Cal.
Behind Daniels and an offensive line that features two freshman starters, Arizona State will bring a more conservative game plan than the Cougars into the first meeting between the teams since 2016.
"They use every bit of grass on the field," Edwards said. "They know how to attack defenses. They spread you out. They put you in space, their athletes against your athletes."