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ASU Football: Upstart Cougars present familiar air raid offense

(Photo: Brett Deckert/WCSN)

In the days leading up to the Arizona State-Washington State clash, it has been Mike Leach’s accusations of the Sun Devils stealing signs that have captured the headlines. ASU is no stranger to hearing about these allegations, and Leach is used to uttering indictments against the Sun Devil coaching staff, having done the same thing last season.

Call it nonsense or call it a concern. Either way, it is stirring the pot during the week. Perhaps it is taking away from the task at hand for the Sun Devils, which is to regain their footing in the Pac-12 while figuring out how to contain the suddenly resurgent Cougars.

In addition to Leach being the fearless leader of a program that was once considered the laughing stock of the Pac-12, Luke Falk is the driving force behind an offense that has one main dimension to it.

They pass. A lot.

In fact, only two quarterbacks in the country have attempted more passes this season than Falk. In addition, Falk has completed 17 more throws than any other quarterback in the NCAA.

So yes, they throw the ball more frequently than Leach can accuse teams of stealing signs, but physically stopping their attack is far from as easy as it sounds.

For a defense that has allowed more passing yards than any other team in the country, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has to have a plan of attack in mind.

“The key for us is the same thing we tried to do against (Davis) Webb and (Patrick) Mahomes,” Patterson said. “Don’t just line up in the coverage, try to keep him off-balance by making him second-guess. Maybe hold the ball a little longer.”

Patterson noted that Falk has been in the system for three years, longer than the other two quarterbacks he had mentioned.

His defense faced Falk last year, and the Cougars quarterback threw for 497 yards and five touchdowns. To state the obvious, the Sun Devils would like to avoid that occurring again.

“There are certain things from the air raid philosophy that carry over no matter if you’re playing Cal or Texas Tech, it’s all the same origin,” Patterson said. “But they are all a little bit different as well because there is a difference in personnel.”

Because of the offensive prowess that the Cougars possess, ASU will have to beat them the same way they took care of Texas Tech and Cal: going blow for blow offensively with them.

If you’re basing the evidence solely off of last week’s result, there is not a lot reason to believe ASU can do that. But this team has surprised in the past, and similar to last Saturday’s game against Colorado, the success is all going to hinge on the health of Manny Wilkins.

Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey have continuously said that Wilkins gives the Sun Devils the best chance to win, and will going forward. Therefore, the daunting task of competing with the WSU offense will be primarily on his shoulders.

“I thought Manny did all he could do,” Lindsey said regarding Wilkins’ performance last week. “We didn’t do enough around him to help him. We need to run the ball better and help him out, and we didn’t do that.”

Even though it is his first year at ASU, Lindsey has previous experience facing the Cougars, stemming back to his time at Auburn back in 2013.

Lindsey knows that it is going to take a strong running game that complements Wilkins in order to beat the Cougars, who are in pole position right now for the Pac-12 championship.

“Those guys are very, very well-coached,” he said. “They play physical, their front is very physical, the coordinator there, I’m really impressed with him.”


Practice Notes

-Despite starting last week, Manny Wilkins was not participating in the 11-on-11 drills and was clearly limping.

-D.J. Calhoun was sporting a green jersey, but did participate in drills. He also intercepted a pass by Dillon Sterling-Cole, who ran with the first team, during 11-on-11.

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Jacob Janower
Jacob Janower is a junior sports journalism student at Arizona State. You can follow him on Twitter @JanowerJacob or contact him by email

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