TEMPE, Ariz. — As Arizona State prepares to play Washington State in Pullman, Wash., coaches have stressed the necessity of winning on the road. This, however, is not your average road game.
Due to a few atypical circumstances, the Sun Devils expect Thursday’s game at Martin Stadium to come with a little extra edge.
“You’re walking into an environment where they’ve had a week off, they’re playing on Thursday night on ESPN on Halloween night,” coach Todd Graham said. “They’ve got everything lined up exactly like they want it.”
On top of all that, Washington State announced last May that morning classes on the day of the game would be optional and afternoon classes would be canceled in order to help showcase the campus on national TV and encourage strong attendance.
All those circumstances sound like the makings of a hornet’s nest of an environment, and the Sun Devils are preparing for such.
“It’s going to be an electric environment,” tight end Chris Coyle said. “I know they’ve got a really good fan base from the last time we went up there. It was cold, but their stadium was still packed.
“We just can’t let things like that get in our heads. We’ve just got to stay focused on ourselves and what we have to do.”
Washington State coach Mike Leach said the Halloween night game “is an exciting time to play,” and is almost certainly aware the circumstances could work in his team’s favor as it fights for the two final wins it needs to get bowl eligible for the first time since 2003. The Cougars are 4-4 overall and 2-3 in Pac-12 play.
“That’s just going to pump them up as much as we need to be pumped up,” ASU linebacker Chris Young said. “So we need to go in and match their intensity. We’ve just got to go in and dominate.”
ASU (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) heads to Pullman after a bye week that followed its best performance of the season, a 53-24 dismantling of Washington. The Sun Devils are 0-2 away from Sun Devil Stadium this year, with losses at Stanford and against Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas.
Coaches have preached the need to block out all the additional quirks of Thursday’s game.
“If we go in there and just play it doesn’t matter,” Graham said. “There’s no excuses. You’ve just got to go win, period.”
Still, ASU has prepared for the environment accordingly. On Sunday and Monday, ASU’s offense spent significant time working at its indoor practice facility with crowd noise blaring over the speaker system, something veteran players said did not occur before the team’s last trip to Pullman in 2011 under coach Dennis Erickson. ASU lost that game amid a late-season tailspin.
While ASU won’t have its home crowd of the comforts of Sun Devil Stadium to lean on, the national stage could be a motivator as ASU looks to maintain its hold on first place in the Pac-12 South.
“Loud, very rowdy, exciting,” ASU receiver Jaelen Strong said when asked what he’s expecting in Pullman. “It’s exciting for us as well. I know they put us on upset alert, so that’s going to give us some motivation.”
STRONG, FOSTER TO PLAY
After practice Monday, Strong said he expects to play Thursday. The sophomore who leads ASU in receiving has been dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the game against Washington.
“It’s just a little banged up right now,” Strong said. “I’ll be fine Thursday.”
Strong missed practice last week but returned Sunday and Monday, though he still appeared to be moving at less than 100 percent.
At his weekly press conference, Graham said Strong would play, as will running back D.J. Foster, who has been battling a knee injury. Foster was held out of practice last week and again on Monday, but he did practice Sunday.