By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
Anticipation. Excitement. Optimism. Urgency. Adversity. These are just few of the words that describe the beginning of Arizona State’s 2011 season. It was an off season that began with adversity in Spring Football when Omar Bolden went down with a knee injury which hurt the Sun Devils’ defensive secondary. In fall camp, the bad news kept coming when starting linebacker Brandon Magee, a leader on the defense and projected star alongside Vontaze Burfict, went down for the season with an Achilles injury. Throughout all this the Sun Devils have been plugging away in Tempe since August 2nd looking to make noise in the new Pacific 12 Conference South Division. After more than a month of meetings, two-a-day practices, wind sprints and scrimmages it’s safe to assume that the team, as well as the coaching staff, are about fed up with one another and would like to focus their energy on someone new. In comes UC Davis at the right time for what is surely a menacing group of Devils. This will be the only non-FBS team that ASU faces after last season’s scheduling snafu in which ASU faced two non-FBS teams due to San Jose State buying out of their contract; that cost the Sun Devils a bowl game despite going 6-6. That will not happen in 2011. This will be the only so called “tune up” game before a huge game next week against the University of Missouri. But that’s next week and to live by former ASU Coach Bruce Snyder’s it’s “One at a Time” and it begins with the Aggies.
WHO ARE THE AGGIES?
The UC Davis program is coming off a 6-5 season in 2010. They are on a mission to have a strong campaign in their final year in the Great West Conference. The Aggies enjoyed a huge win last year against FBS member and ASU jilter San Jose State 14-13 and are looking to build on a three game winning streak to close out the 2010 season.
UC Davis has reason to be optimistic in 2011 due to it returning one of the conference’s best signal callers in Sophomore Quarterback Randy Wright who was named the Great West’s Rookie of the Year in 2010. Wright threw for 2,432 yards and 17 touchdowns and averaged 222.1 yards per game passing.
Anchoring the Aggies offensive line is senior center Ray Wilburn who was an all conference performer in 2010, and they have experienced starters at guard and right tackle. Protecting the blind side of the Aggie QB is Redshirt Freshman Tackle Ian Joseph who at 6’6” 300 pounds has the tools to be dominant but will be making his first collegiate start at the most crucial position on the line.
At the skill positions the Aggies lack experience, but they have several young players who are looking to emerge this season. The player to keep an eye on is junior wide receiver Anthony Soto. In 2010 the Aggies’ top returning player caught 29 passes for 344 yards playing behind All-Great West Conference player Sean Creadick. On the ground the Aggies are relying on senior Josh Reese to be the workhorse. Reese battled injury in 2010 and only ran for 317 yards. Junior Nick Aprile, the Aggies’ leading rusher last season will back up Reese at tailback but will also see time at fullback and receiver. At tight end the Aggies have the unenviable task of replacing All-American Dean Rodgers who is now with the San Diego Chargers of the NFL. The likely starter will be Sophomore Taylor Sloat who has the tools to be a good player.
HOW THE ASU DEFENSE MATCHES UP
ASU will need to make an immediate statement by pressuring Wright early, often and making his life miserable. The Devil Defense will have a huge advantage in the trenches over the left tackle spot where Junior Onyeali, ASU’s best pass rusher, will be lining up against Ian Joseph, the freshman making his first start. Look for the Aggies to double team Onyeali with a tight end or “chip” him with a running back out in the passing game. This will leave other Sun Devil defenders in one on one battles up front and leave the middle of the formation susceptible to the blitz. This can spell doom for the UC Davis Offense as ASU’s Vontaze Burfict is a relentless blitzer who will reap havoc in the Aggie backfield. In the trenches look for Will Sutton, Corey Adams and Bo Moos to have a productive game against the experienced yet undersized Aggie interior line. The secondary will benefit from ASU’s pass rush which can lead to early or hurried throws by Wright which can lead to takeaways.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH AND WHY
Sophomore DE Junior Onyeali. Look for him to keep tallying up his sack totals against an inexperienced Aggie left tackle.
Defensively the Aggies are looking to improve from the 2010 season in which they allowed 167.8 yards on the ground. The one aspect of the defense that is eye opening is their ability to create takeaways. Last season the Aggies took the ball away from the offense 24 times with 15 coming from forced fumbles. Although the Aggies lost their best defensive lineman from a year ago, All-Great West Defensive End Eric Sobotka, they have plenty of experience up front. Senior Defensive Ends Victor Lee and Tommy Grillo along with Junior End Bobby Erskine rotating from the bench give the Aggies experience and production. At tackle the Aggies return 2010 Honorable Mention Great West Conference performer Brock Galvin who is looking to rise to the elite players in the league in 2011.
The linebackers for the Aggies are inexperienced given their top two tacklers graduated after last season. The top player returning is junior linebacker Jordan Gross who will be playing in the middle and is a team captain. Gross was third in tackles on the team last year after transferring from Utah State.
The secondary is experienced and has decent depth. The top player by far is Second Team All Great West Conference Cornerback Jonathan Perkins. Perkins, a sophomore, picked off two passes and broke up seven more in 2010.
HOW THE ASU OFFENSE MATCHES UP
The Sun Devils have an immediate size advantage on the line as well as a speed advantage at the skill positions. The Aggies, while scrappy, are undersized which will play right into the hands of the ASU running game. Look for Noel Mazzone to give the Aggie defense a heavy dose of Cameron Marshall with potentially fifteen to twenty carries during the game. Marshall and Deantre Lewis provide the “Thunder and Lightning” running back tandem that ASU hasn’t has since Terry Battle and J.R. Redmond in 1996. Brock Osweiler will have many options in the spread attack as the Aggies may have difficulty matching ASU’s speed on the edges while having to cover the interior receivers over the middle. Osweiler should have a productive first half and may be out of the game by the third quarter.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH AND WHY
Cameron Marshall should have a huge game on the ground running over undersized Aggie defenders.
PREDICTION: ASU 63 UC Davis 7
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