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Washington State rolls into matchup with Arizona State

Nov 5, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Nakia Watson (25) rushes for a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

It is not hard to find numbers that suggest Arizona State and host Washington State are evenly matched, especially on offense, going into their Pac-12 game Saturday at Pullman, Wash.

Both teams are 2-4 in conference play and are seventh and eighth in points scored and yards gained, with both categories slightly favoring Arizona State.

Yet Washington State (5-4 overall) has allowed only 20 points per game, vs. 31.1 for the Sun Devils (3-6), who couldn’t stop UCLA in a 50-36 loss at Tempe, Ariz., last weekend. In particular, the Bruins rushed for 402 of their 571 total yards.

Not that Washington State coach Jake Dickert expects it to be so easy for his team.

“I think Arizona State is a talented defense,” Dickert said. “I think it’s rare for them to give up that type of yardage, but I think there are some opportunities that we need to take advantage of in the run game, but more importantly, do it with our style and our way.”

The Cougars’ way starts with running back Nakia Watson, who has 491 yards rushing among his 668 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

In Washington State’s 52-14 blowout of host Stanford over the weekend, Watson ran for 166 yards and a score. Quarterback Cameron Ward threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns, part of his 2,360 yards passing this season.

“They’ll be in four wides a lot, spread you out, throw the ball around,” Sun Devils defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said.

Henderson is aware the Sun Devils need “to make sure we don’t give the same looks in the secondary and making sure we disguise a little bit more.”

Arizona State has its own weapon in running back Xazavian Valladay, who piled up 92 yards rushing and two scores while making 10 catches for 89 yards against UCLA. Not that Dickert needed any convincing about Valladay, who has 1,061 yards from scrimmage 14 touchdowns (852 and 12 on the ground) this season.

“I’m very familiar with X,” Dickert said. “My three years at Wyoming (as assistant coach), X was one of the best tailbacks in the country. … He’s been phenomenal. He’s perfect for the (Sun Devils’) zone scheme running attack, and just like Nakia for us, always knew he could be a great pass threat.”

In his fifth collegiate season, Valladay has 4,926 yards from scrimmage (4,133 rushing) and 35 touchdowns (31 on the ground).

–Field Level Media