Arizona State faces a challenge that could be tougher mentally than physically when the No. 8 Sun Devils visit struggling Oregon State on Saturday. Arizona State, fresh off a resounding 55-31 victory over No. 16 Notre Dame and owner of a five-game winning streak, leads the Pac-12 South Division by a half-game over UCLA and USC. "We have been focused keeping our guys humbled and hungry,'' coach Todd Graham said in his weekly press conference. "The achievement of our goals is close, and this is the time when it is really important to focus and to get better fundamentally ..."
The Sun Devils average 36.7 points per game, but their attacking defense has been the difference. The unit, tied for 19th in the country with three sacks per game, blitzed on 68-of-78 plays in a 19-16 overtime victory over Utah on Nov. 1 and 62-of-79 against the Fighting Irish. The Beavers, who lost to Washington State 39-32 last week to extend their losing streak to four games, yield 3.1 sacks per game - tied for 111th among the 125 FBS teams.
TV: 10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Arizona State -9
ABOUT ARIZONA STATE (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12): Quarterback Taylor Kelly delivered his best performance in three games since returning from a foot injury with three touchdowns against Notre Dame. “Those first two games,” Kelly told the State Press, “getting the timing down in your head with the rush and different routes (was difficult).” Kelly's top target is Jaelen Strong (62 catches, 879 yards, nine touchdowns - all team highs), who has recorded a TD catch in five straight games, while running back D.J. Foster (821 yards, six touchdowns) provides balance to the Sun Devils' offense.
ABOUT OREGON STATE (4-5, 1-5): The Beavers must figure out a way to protect quarterback Sean Mannion, the Pac-12's all-time passing leader with 12,873 yards. The 6-5, 227-pound senior, though, is having an off season with 10 touchdowns against six interceptions, and hasn't fared well against Arizona State with three touchdowns and eight interceptions in two games. The rushing attack - 112th at 108.6 yards per game - hasn't done much to support Mannion and neither has the defense, which allowed an average of 37.8 points in the last four games but is No. 3 against the pass in the Pac-12 at 232.3 yards allowed per game.
1. Foster has at least one reception in all 36 career games.
2. Oregon State WR Victor Bolden (51 catches, 568 yards - both team highs, one touchdown) tries to become the only player in school history to record 10 or more receptions in three consecutive games.
3. Arizona State leads the series 26-13-1, including a 30-17 victory last season, but Oregon State has won four straight at Reser Stadium.
PREDICTION: Arizona State 27, Oregon State 24