By Brent Stecker
The first break of the 2013 season for Washington State is almost over, and the 4-4 Cougars are now staring down one of the best offenses in the nation.
For the first time since losing to No. 2 Oregon, Washington State (2-3 in the Pac-12) will hit the field at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to host Arizona State (5-2, 3-1), the Pac-12 South leader and a team knocking on the door of the Top 25 polls. And while the Cougars have shown at times that they’re capable of lighting up the scoreboard, it’s nothing like the 45.6 points per game the Sun Devils average, which ranks sixth in the nation.
Washington State’s defense will be keyed on Sun Devils running back Marion Grice, who leads the nation with 18 touchdowns this season. (AP)
“They’re an explosive offense,” Washington State safety Deone Bucannon said of the Sun Devils. “They have good technique and they have playmakers on the field. That running back, No. 1 (Marion Grice), he’s an explosive player. And the quarterback (Taylor Kelly) is pretty good – he’s a sound guy, he doesn’t make too many mistakes.”
Grice will garner a lot of attention from the Cougars’ defense, as he has used his versatility to tally up an FBS-leading 18 touchdowns (12 rushing, six receiving).
“He’s good at catching the ball out of the backfield, a good runner,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “They’ve scored a lot of touchdowns, too, and so as they get down there they let him pound it in. I think he does a real good job.”
Kelly, meanwhile, has topped 300 yards passing in five of ASU’s seven games this season, and he’s totaled 18 touchdowns through the air to seven interceptions.
“(Kelly is) just a playmaker,” Leach said. “The biggest thing is I think he leads the unit well, and he makes plays. He’s not a flashy guy, but he makes plays, and of the guys in this league, (he is) maybe as good as any of them at leading his unit and putting together plays at key times.”
Arizona State will be riding the wave of momentum provided by a 53-24 win over then No. 20 Washington on Oct. 19, while Washington State will be trying to erase the memory of a 62-38 loss at the hands of Oregon on the same day. The Cougars will also be looking to exact some retribution for a 46-7 loss in Tempe last season.
“They have a lot of the same guys as last year, at least in their front seven, and last year we didn’t play very well against them,” WSU offensive lineman Elliott Bosch said. “They played sound defense, and we’re gonna have to play a good game against them.”
Leach added that experience has helped the Sun Devils on defense this season.
“(They’re) predominantly seniors, and just have gotten better all the time,” he said. “They’re a group of guys that have been playing together a long time, and they’re playing good this year. Besides their talent, their experience and how long they’ve played together has helped them some.”