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October 28, 2013

Sun Devils preparing for pass happy Cougars

Arizona State's secondary is probably feeling some pressure but also foaming at the mouth just a little bit right about now.

This week against Washington State, the Sun Devils go up against a Cougar squad that leads the country in passing attempts with 470, averaging 58.75 per game, and ranks No. 6 with 373.1 passing yards per game. With only 145 rushing attempts all year, 76 percent of the WSU offense has been through the air.

At this point in the season, ASU ranks No. 22 in the nation in passing yards allowed with an average of 205.3 yards allowed per game.

Last week against Oregon, junior WSU quarterback Connor Halliday broke the FBS single game record for most passing attempts with 89, a mark previously held by Drew Brees with 83.

"We're actually kind of excited as a secondary because that means lots of chances for making a lot of interceptions and making plays," senior cornerback Osahon Irabor said. "We know the quarterback isn't too shy about turning the ball over so we want to take advantage of that, we want to get after him up front, put some pressure on him, make him throw into coverage and make mistakes."

The challenge is one that safeties coach/co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball is telling his players to embrace.

"It's exciting," Ball said. "We look forward to that. We look forward to being able to really concentrate on the pass, that's what we live for. To be able to go and know the ball is going to be thrown 80-plus times, that excites us. We just need to make sure we do what we do, make sure we're fundamentally sound and make sure we don't give up any cheap ones. It's the same thing in every week but this week is more of the case because it's going to be in the air a lot but we're looking forward to it."

Irabor and senior safety Alden Darby undoubtedly have a sour taste in their mouth they'd like to get rid of when it comes to Halliday and the Cougars, especially on the road.

Two years ago when ASU visited Pullman, Halliday was only a freshman yet torched the secondary to the tune of 494 yards as he finished 27 for 36 with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a shocking upset.

The players who remember that performance all too clearly feel that things will be different this time around.

"We have a new attitude as a team," Irabor said. "We're a lot more focused as a group, a lot closer and we understand the goal that is ahead of us. We're going into Pullman to get a win, that's it. We're not worried about the weather or their blackout or whatever is going on over there. We're going to go get a win and then come back to Tempe."

The Cougars have a very capable wide receiver corps led by 6-foot-0, 176 pound sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks who has already amassed 59 receptions for 655 yards and five touchdowns.

Aside from Marks, WSU has eight other receivers who have over 15 receptions and more than 200 yards.

"They're good," Ball said. "They run their system, they know their system really well. They do a great job of running their scheme. They know it more than they did last year, they've been in it for a year. They know the routes and they seem a lot more confident in this game than they did last year. They are all talented and they have a group of guys that present some problems. They are all very solid receivers that concern you. They run good routes, they catch the ball and they fit the scheme. It's going to be a big challenge for us."

Having nine different viable options for Halliday to throw to will be a challenge that the Sun Devil secondary hasn't seen up to this point in the season and a situation they may not see again for the rest of the year.

"They have a lot of different concepts," Irabor said. "They pass the ball 80, 90 times a game so there's a ton of different plays. You can see a lot of different mismatches where they try and get their slot receivers on our linebackers and stuff like that so we have to make sure we line up right and we're assignment sound so we don't have guys running free down the field."

ASU's aggressive style of defense entails a lot of five and six man blitzes also leaves its secondary more prone to man coverage situations which typically makes it more difficult to defend the pass if the attacking defenders do not reach the quarterback, which happened quite frequently against Notre Dame and Stanford.

Since a little over three-fourths of WSU's offense has been predicated on the pass so far, it will be even more imperative for ASU's secondary to be consistent when locked up in man coverage to avoid some of the big plays those teams had in the passing game.

"We had missed assignments and had guys leaving people wide open so that's not physical, that's just mental and just making mistakes," Irabor said. "We've corrected those mistakes, we're making sure we're assignment sound and that those mistakes aren't happening and that's helping the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback."


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