Coming off a bye, the Washington State University football team returns to the gridiron to face the Arizona State Sun Devils on Halloween night in Pullman.
The Cougars look to be the scarier team Thursday night in their quest to avoid falling below .500.
The Sun Devils enter the matchup following a long break and a resounding victory against the then-ranked Washington Huskies. Arizona State won the game at home 53-24, which marked the second game in a row that the Sun Devils scored above 50 points.
The Sun Devils’ road record tells a different story. Although Arizona State has a 5-2 overall record and is 3-1 in the Pac-12 conference, both of its losses came in environments outside of Arizona.
Last time these two teams played each other, the Sun Devils had the benefit of being at home, and they trounced the Cougars 46-7 behind quarterback Taylor Kelly’s four touchdown passes.
Kelly returns this year and has led a strong passing attack that averages 332 yards per game. The redshirt junior has thrown for 18 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.
“The biggest thing is I think he leads the unit well,” Head Coach Mike Leach said. “He makes plays. He’s not a real flashy guy, but he makes plays and of the guys in this league, maybe as good as any of them at leading his unit and putting together plays at key times.”
The Sun Devils also have a dual-threat weapon in senior running back Marion Grice, who has hurt opponents with his hands and his feet this season. Grice leads the team in both receiving touchdowns with six and rushing touchdowns with 12, which makes him a factor in almost every play the Sun Devils call.
Grice’s 12 rushing touchdowns tie him for first in the nation for touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s just a versatile guy,” Leach said. “He’s good at catching the ball out of the backfield, a good runner, and they’ve scored a lot of touchdowns too, so as they get down there, they’ll let him pound it in.”
The WSU defense did not grab an interception against Oregon, but its streak of forcing turnovers continued. The Cougars caused the Ducks to fumble the ball three times and recovered all three. The Cougars will try to extend that turnover streak against Arizona State.
Leading the Cougars once again will be redshirt junior quarterback Connor Halliday, who like Kelly has 18 touchdown passes. Halliday separates himself with his interception total, which has climbed to 17 so far this season.
Halliday was sacked four times by Oregon alone and has been banged up this season. However, he is not letting that stop him.
“I know that I am our best option to win us games, so I’m going to be out there,” Halliday said after the Oregon game.
If the Cougars’ quarterback can get into a rhythm and find his own receivers, he has plenty of threats to utilize. Both sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks and senior wide receiver Vince Mayle have five receiving touchdowns, and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dominique Williams is close behind with four.
Furthermore, the last time the Cougars played Arizona State in Martin Stadium, Halliday led the team to a 37-27 win in which he threw for almost 500 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The balanced ASU Sun Devils offense will square off against the pass-heavy Cougars at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.