PULLMAN — The Washington State football team won’t have to deal with the Pac-12 passing leader this week, nor with a projected first-round NFL draft pick. But the Cougars face an equally fearsome opponent at quarterback this week: Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly.
WSU’s defense might not be enough to beat the talented dual-threat quarterback by itself. But the Cougars might get a little help from the weather, which is expected to be about 48 degrees at kickoff — or 25 degrees colder than it will be in Tempe.
Kelly doesn’t have the video-game numbers of Oregon State’s Sean Mannion or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota — the last two quarterbacks the Cougars faced — but he may prove to be an even greater challenge.
“The biggest thing, I think, he leads the unit well,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “He makes plays, he’s not a real flashy guy, but he makes plays. Of all the guys in this league, he may be as good as any of them at leading his unit and making plays at key times.”
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Such plays were plentiful last season, when Kelly completed 20 of 23 passes with four touchdowns in a 46-7 shellacking of the Cougars.
The weather could help WSU this time, but ASU coach Todd Graham dismissed the notion that the temperature difference will play a factor. The Sun Devils don’t have any plans to mitigate the effects of the cold via extra warm-ups, heating equipment, or otherwise, he said.
“We never worry about that,” Graham said. “It’s part of the game. Obviously you’ve got to be prepared for anything, but it doesn’t affect us. We’re a run, play-action pass football team and it hasn’t affected us. We’re not worried about it a bit.”
ASU hasn’t beaten a Pacific Northwest team on the road since 2010 — and is 2-10 away from home in November and December in that span. The last time the Sun Devils visited Pullman — on Nov. 12, 2011 — then-WSU freshman Connor Halliday torched ASU to the tune of 494 yards and four TDs.
The last time Kelly played in a cold-weather game, he had one of his worst passing outings. On Nov. 3, 2012, Kelly completed 22 of 41 throws against Oregon State for just 153 yards, or 3.7 yards per attempt.