I expect a repeat of the Texas Tech performance from Wilkins
PAC-12 Conference play is here. Tonight, the 3-0 Sun Devils are hosting North Division foe, the Cal Golden Bears.
ASU took a huge step forward between weeks one and two by outgunning Texas Tech. However, there are some concerned fans who believe that the Devils took a step back against last week’s lower-division opponent, UTSA in a late 4th-quarter victory (32-28).
Offensively, QB Manny Wilkins was not nearly as dynamic against UTSA in his first road start. That might have been a function of a dialed back playbook in an attempt by Offensive Coordinator Chip Lindsey to reveal little to upcoming conference opponents.
I expect a repeat of the Texas Tech performance from Wilkins when he evenly distributed the ball to open receivers in short and long pass plays. However, we haven’t seen as many throws over the middle to test opposing defenses. ASU has too many playmakers to limit themselves to “cutting the field”.
This provides a blueprint for ASU’s offensive strategy
A healthy dose of short to intermediate routes over the middle by ASU tight ends could open up the Cal defense underneath. In turn, they’ll be forced to try to stack the box and limit the bruising Sun Devil rushing attack.
Cal gave up over 100 yards to two Texas Longhorn running backs last week. This provides a blueprint for ASU’s offensive strategy. Additionally, if ASU can soften Cal’s linebacking corp and keep them honest in zone coverage drops, RB’s Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage should be able to take over the game in the second half.
In what amounts to a “cause and effect” relationship, taking what the defense gives ASU and keeping them off balance will result in the potential for explosive plays, something in their repertoire.
WR Tim White should be mostly healthy, and both he and freshman N’Keal Harry have established themselves as sure-handed receiving targets for Wilkins. Cameron Smith and Jalen Harvey are next in line for the ASU QB to move the ball downfield.
ASU’s defense is still not holding up their end of the bargain.
Against UTSA we saw an alarming amount of repeated miscues as it relates to blown coverages and horrific open field tackling. Whether it’s a lack of technique or focus, this team remains vulnerable due to deficiencies in the defensive backfield.
A Texas Tech Connection
The Golden Bears are physical and explosive, even after first contact. They run a version of the “Air Raid” offense, and QB Davis Webb, who is a Texas Tech transfer, has already faced the Devils in the 2013 Holiday Bowl. In that game, Webb torched a talented but young experienced secondary. Sound familiar?
Naturally, Cal is counting on Webb’s ability to exploit ASU’s secondary much the way Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes did in week two.
Another major turning point for ASU was keeping UTSA QB Dalton Sturm contained after he had scrambled free throughout the first half (and led his team in rushing yards). The Devils kept their linebackers home in order to account for “Spy” Sturm, and they did so successfully.
One major change last week was replacing starting SPUR linebacker Marcus Ball with Bandit Safety Laiu Moeakiola, who had spent the previous three seasons at SPUR.
I foresee the staff keeping Moeakiola at SPUR LB tonight against the “Air Raid” because he is not only a sound tackler, he is also best utilized at that position due to his ability to diagnose plays and be a major communicator on defense.
This game is setting up to be another high scoring shootout. Much like the Texas Tech game, turnovers and winning the field position battle will decide this one. ASU was +2 in the turnover ratio against Tech and routinely pinned the Red Raiders deep in their own territory. With two of the best specialists in the country in K Zane Gonzalez and P Matt Hawke, they could potentially be the unsung heroes in this contest if the Devils prevail.
Let’s do this. See you at Sun Devil Stadium.