TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State had a week off to recover from injuries, refocus for the rest of the season and get ready for the next opponent.
The Sun Devils no doubt needed the extra time to prepare for one of the most difficult to defend offenses in the country.
Today, No. 18 Arizona State faces Washington State and coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid, the kind of offense that puts up prodigious numbers and forces opposing coaches to dig deep into their defensive playbooks.
“I think you’ve got to give your guys the best chance to be successful, but you can’t screw them up, either,” Arizona State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzalez said. “So, I think there’s a really fine line of trying to do stuff you can’t do and what are you going to be best at. We’re going to try and give our guys the best chance at being successful on Saturday afternoon and we want to attack, we don’t want to defend.”
Except for a 34-31 loss to Colorado, Arizona State (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) has been solid on defense, holding its other opponents to an average of 9.5 points per game.
Washington State (3-2, 0-2) will be unlike anything the Sun Devils have faced so far this season.
The Cougars lead the country in passing at 450 yards per game, are fourth in total offense at 546.8 yards and their 44.8-point average is eighth — even after a 38-13 loss to Utah before their bye week.
Senior quarterback Anthony Gordon lead the FBS in passing yards with 2,146 and is second with 22 touchdown passes. Washington State has eight players with at least 15 catches, including five with more than 20.
In other words, few teams have been able to stop them.
“I don’t know if you can to keep them under control, they’re going to move the ball,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “You can’t worry about yards, it’s more about points.”
Washington State’s problem has been stopping teams.
The Cougars allowed 105 points and 1,183 total yards in the past two games, both losses, and are 105th in total defense, allowing 444.4 yards per game.
The defensive shortcomings led to recent changes. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys abruptly resigned last week and Cougars head coach Mike Leach elevated inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni to interim defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath to co-coordinator on an interim basis.
“We haven’t had any shortage of strategy, we had too much strategy,” Leach said. “You can have all the strategy in the world. Everybody thinks there is some sort of secret recipe or if someone would have just said this or just run that. It’s not like that, it never has been.”
A few more things to look for when Washington State plays at No. 18 Arizona State:
BREAKING BENJAMIN: Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin has not put up the same kind of numbers he did while finishing fifth in the FBS a year ago but is finding plenty of ways to contribute.
Benjamin has become more of a pass-catching threat this season, catching 13 passes for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s also Arizona State’s leading rusher with 392 yards and had three rushing touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ 24-17 road win against California on Sept. 27.
BOUNCING BACK: Washington State’s vaunted offense hit a road block in its last game against Utah.
Gordon had his worst game of the season, throwing for 252 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The offense was held to 313 yards and the Cougars settled for two field goals in three trips inside the Utes’ 20-yard line.
Trying to get it ramped up again won’t be easy against the stingy Sun Devils.