After previously talking about the goal of achieving a double-digit year in sacks, sophomore defensive end Joseph Wicker has been shut out through the first two games in that category. Wicker, who was expected to have a breakout year, has been relatively quiet but looks to finally break out Friday night against UTSA.
“Really good,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said of Wicker’s performance to start the season. “The first week, he was very dominant. We’ve been very dominant, as far as the run game and the line of scrimmage. (Northern Arizona) had a good plan, they just get the ball out and didn't really hold it. And then when they did, they max protected, so we’re rushing four-on-seven. I thought he played really well the first week. I thought he played really good (against Texas Tech). The other night, a similar deal. The ball comes out quick, but he’s dominated the line of scrimmage and done very well.”
Heading into a matchup against a more multiple, pro-style offense, Wicker will have more opportunities to get to the quarterback in pass-rush situations.
Last season, the Roadrunners’ offensive line finished with the most sacks allowed per game in the NCAA. In the final seven games alone, UTSA allowed 30 sacks on quarterback Dalton Sturm.
That alone should give Wicker and Arizona State’s defense more opportunities to hit the quarterback, which has been a struggle for the Sun Devils with NAU and Texas Tech getting the ball out fast.
This game also takes a little bit of pressure off ASU's secondary, which allowed 540 passing yards against Texas Tech.
On the road
Playing a road game in Texas is a regularity for Graham. During his tenure at ASU, Graham has played in the Lone Star State twice previously, once against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium in 2013 and then against Texas A&M at NRG Stadium in 2015. This trip to the Alamodome in San Antonio marks the program's third visit to the state in four seasons. Next season ASU will travel down to Lubbock and face Texas Tech again.
Outside of Graham’s two key recruiting areas, what he called the program's “home base” in Arizona and California, Texas is his next priority.
“We recruit all over,” Graham said. “West Texas, all over in there. It’s not one area or another. We’ve got to go in there and compete with the Big 12 and the SEC, and that’s a challenge so we’ve got to be very careful because it’s not our home recruiting base. We have to win in our home recruiting base of Arizona, first and foremost, then a gas tank away there in southern California. We’ve done well, and we continue to do well there. Obviously, that’s why we go there and play, because it’s hard to recruit an area you don’t play in. Obviously, we have a lot of coaches with ties there. Those relationships help us. So, I think it’s very important to play there, and it definitely helps us in recruiting.”
Graham is confident in recruiting players from Texas, even against competition in the Big 12 and SEC for some of his targets. ASU’s recruiting classes since Graham become head coach have always included at least one recruit from Texas.
“We’ve sent coaches all over," Graham said. "I didn’t do anything, zero. I don’t think we’re going to get a guy from Texas because we did a satellite camp. We’re going to go to Texas and beat the Big 12 or the SEC on a guy, that’s going to be because of a relationship, because they like something unique about Arizona State. We’ve been pretty fortunate to get two or three a year, but you might not get any. You’ve got to compete with the right people there. It’s very, very competitive and very, very heavily recruited.”
News and Notes
- Senior wide receiver Tim White was in the injury line during warmups at practice Wednesday and did not participate in individual drills. White did not work out at Muscle Beach, but instead helped Jay Norvell during wide receiver drills. Graham said he expects White to play Friday, but he's not sure how much.
- Redshirt freshman defensive lineman George Lea and junior linebacker Christian Sam were in the injury line and walked through warmups. Sam has a small brace on his right ankle while Lea has been walking with a limp this week. Both players worked out at Muscle Beach during individual drills.
- Junior safety James Johnson and sophomore linebacker Khaylan Thomas are both wearing braces on their right knees, but both players fully participated in individual drills.
- ASU's offensive line used the same five first-team players that started Saturday's game during an 11-on-air period. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Zach Robertson started the season opener against Northern Arizona, but was limited Saturday against Texas Tech due to an ankle injury. On Wednesday, Robertson was a full participant in practice but worked with the second team offensive line at right tackle.
- With White sidelined at Wednesday's practice, junior running back Kalen Ballage practiced returning punts.
- Junior J'Marcus Rhodes took first team reps with ASU's first team defense at bandit safety Wednesday, as junior Chad Adams worked with the second team defense at the position. Adams has started both of ASU's first two games at bandit safety.
- Senior safety Laiu Moeakiola worked as the second-team field safety behind sophomore Armand Perry. Moeakiola has been limited by a hamstring injury this season, and has practiced at Spur and bandit safety.