It’s a Halloween Special tonight in Pullman when the Washington State Cougars host the Arizona State Sun Devils in a very important matchup for both programs. WSU is trying to get bowl eligible and needs two wins in their final four games to get it done. Arizona State, meanwhile, came out of their bye week alone in first place of the Pac 12 South and would like to stay on track for the conference title game. It’ll be a huge task for Wazzu to pull off the upset and if they have any chance, they’ll need to figure out the stingy pass defense of ASU.
There’s no element of surprise when it comes to Washington State’s plan of attack on offense under Mike Leach. They’re going to throw the ball early, late and pretty much everywhere in between. The Cougs are predicated on moving the ball through the air for their offense to be effective and “balance” is considered a dirty word. The Cougs have thrown the ball 470 times this season, more than any other team in the country, and run it just 145 times, the fewest number of rushing attempts in all of college football.
In short, Connor Halliday is going to throw the football. However, he’ll face a very tough pass defense tonight as ASU comes into the game ranked No. 2 in the Pac 12 in pass defense, allowing just 205.3 yards through the air per game. They haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer yet this season and have record 10 interceptions in seven games. Opposing quarterbacks are finding the throwing windows against the Devils very narrow, as ASU is allowing just 52.6 percent completion percentage against them.
That won’t phase Halliday, of course, who has developed a reputation as a gun-slinger that has no fear in throwing into the smallest of windows. He’s going to take his shots against ASU but the difference maker in this game will be how many of those shots land in the hands of the defense. The Cougars have thrown 19 interceptions this season with a college football high 17 of them coming from Halliday. He’s been fearless, without question, but that fearlessness has crossed the line into recklessness when it comes to ball security.
He needs to clean that up in a hurry and get more of his throws into the hands of his own receivers if WSU hopes to pull off the upset. There will be pressure from the ASU defensive front, which loves to blitz to generate pressure on the quarterback, to force Halliday into bad decisions and the secondary behind them is ready to pounce on any wayward passes that get tossed up. For the Cougars to win, Halliday must handle that pressure and get the ball out on time and on target if he hopes to solve this tough Sun Devils pass defense.