On paper, the Red Raiders present an almost insurmountable task
The Texas Tech Red Raiders are here along with their signature “Air Raid” offense which put up 758 yards in their opener last week. On paper, the Red Raiders present an almost insurmountable task for a young ASU secondary.
All-everything Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will come out firing and will relentlessly test ASU’s inexperienced group. Communication in the secondary is paramount when facing a “pass first” offense. Fortunately, the Sun Devils have veteran safety Laiu Moeakiola back from injury. Moeakiola brings a stabilizing mix of experience and communication to his defensive backfield.
Tech’s Air Raid offense typically lines up in four or five wide receiver sets. In turn, ASU’s defense will use two formations: a base Nickel (5 defensive backs) and Dime (6 defensive backs) schemes. It will be a “baptism by fire” for four new players in ASU’s secondary, but Coach Todd Graham and Defensive Coordinator Keith Patterson have a few tricks up their sleeves.
They will show a multitude of blitz packages which have become the calling card of ASU’s “Hell’s Gate” defense. Also, the Maroon and Gold have implemented new zone coverage shells which are designed to negate shorter routes and confuse opposing offenses.
Saturday night will be a consummate chess game between these two teams, but it will more resemble a track meet. The Devil’s defense needs to play “with their hair on fire” while remaining assignment sound to make tackles in the open field.
Offensively for ASU, expect a healthy dose of running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage in order to soften up the Raider defense. This can open up the big play potential for first-year QB Manny Wilkins and his receivers, something that we didn’t see much of against NAU. This burden will fall on ASU’s talented but raw offensive line.
Additionally, ASU’s tight ends should provide Wilkins with easy short to medium route passes. Wide receivers Tim White and N’Keal Harry will also provide “quick hit” targets for Wilkins while WR Cameron Smith will try to take the lid off of the Tech secondary with his speed.
Finally comes Sun Devil special teams, which has become a strength in Tempe. ASU has the ability to leave Tech with long fields and conversely gain good field position from the return game. ASU’s kickers have been phenomenal, and kick returner Tim White is an official special teams tour-de-force.
Despite public opinion, this is a very winnable game for our Devils. Winning the turnover battle, sure open field tackling, slowing down the big play, establishing the run early and often, and sustaining drives in order to keep QB Patrick Mahomes off the field are the keys to victory.
For more on what makes Manny Wilkins special, check out this piece by Sun Devil Athletics. #ForksUp