Presented by Pat Clynes and The Fritz Kennel
Arizona State Insider
With Chris Karpman
RB Kallen Ballage had a record-setting performance last week with eight touchdowns vs Texas Tech. What’s the excitement been like in the wake of that game?
Ballage was interviewed on SportsCenter Monday about his NCAA-tying performance, which also set a Pac-12 record for most touchdowns in a game and broke many school records. Locally, there's a lot of excitement about his performance, particularly as it came in a win that was a toss-up game and sets the Sun Devils up for a chance to be 4-0 in September if they take care of business in games they're clearly favored against the next two weeks.
In each of the last two seasons, Ballage entered the year with health issues including mononucleosis last season that kept him out of the opener. He's 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and the fastest player on the ASU roster, so his strong start to the season is very encouraging to fans and the program itself.
What can we expect offensively from ASU, who are some of the other playmakers in addition Ballage?
Ballage actually is the No. 2 back for ASU in terms of carry distribution not just from the opening game but also the last two seasons. Junior Demario Richard returns after being a 1,000 yard back last year, and the two are very complimentary players. So running back is a position strength for ASU and it needed to be because the Sun Devils have a first-year starting sophomore quarterback in Manny Wilkins who hadn't even thrown a pass before this season, and an offensive line that is replacing four starters from 2015.
Wilkins had a very good performance against Texas Tech as ASU put 68 points on the board but now he's going to have to show that he can perform at that level on a consistent basis. He has pretty good receivers to throw to, especially senior Tim White, junior Cameron Smith, sophomore Jalen Harvey and true freshman N'Keal Harry. But White was hurt against Texas Tech and did not practice early in the week. He might sit out the UTSA game.
ASU's offensive line showed improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, with junior college transfer A.J. McCollum moving into the starting lineup and senior Stephon McCray moving from center to right guard and sophomore Quinn Bailey kicking over from right guard to right tackle.
First-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey replaced Mike Norvell, who took the head coaching job at Memphis. Lindsey's offense is part-Air Raid, part pro-style and part-Gus Malzahn spread no huddle. It's unique to his lengthy experiences as a coach, which started in a Wing-T scheme at the high school level. It's an 11 personnel base offense (one running back, one tight end) but ASU uses a lot of formations and plays with two backs or two tight ends a fair amount.
Defensively, what type of scheme can we expect from the Sun Devils and who are some of the key players on that side of the ball?
The Sun Devils are best characterized on defense by how multiple they are and how aggressive they've tended to be over the course of the Todd Graham era. In the last four years they've blitzed as much as any team in college football as an overall percentage of their downs. Behind this they've played primarily Cover 0 (man across, no safety help) and Cover 1 (single high safety).
This approach has worked really well at times, including when ASU had back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014. The big reason is how effective its members of the secondary were, including first-round NFL pick Damarious Randall and three other all-Pac-12 defensive backs. Last season ASU took a major step backwards, finishing last in FBS in passing defense and last in 40-plus yard plays allowed, with porous secondary play a major reason.
ASU is 2-0 coming off big wins. What are the overall expectations on the remainder of the season for the Sun Devils?
Texas Tech was a big win for the Sun Devils and sets the team up for a potential 4-0 start in September if it takes care of UTSA and Cal games in which it'll be clearly favored. Going into this season most people felt like ASU would be a .500 team or a little better and so now ASU has an improving chance to exceed expectations. But anything more than 8-4 would still come as a big surprise and be quite remarkable for a team with a new quarterback, new offensive line, new offensive coordinator and lingering secondary problems.
Finally, what are your expectations and a score prediction for the UTSA game this week?
I think ASU should win at the point of attack on both sides of the ball and as long as it doesn't shoot itself in the foot with breakdowns in the secondary and turnovers on offense it will win pretty handily. My prediction is 45-23 ASU.