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Foes to Know: Arizona State

RaiderPower.com is taking a closer look at Texas Tech's 12 regular season football opponents in 2016. Senior writer Joe Yeager will spotlight two players who could pose problems for the Red Raiders. One will be on offense and the other will be from the defense. Up next is Arizona State.

Traveling to a Power 5 stadium for a non-conference game is normally a venture fraught with peril. However, Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders strutted into SEC country last season and licked the Arkansas Razorbacks but good. And in traveling to Tempe, Arizona to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in game two on Sept. 10, Tech looks to have a decent opportunity to bag another Power 5 victim. 

The Sun Devils went 6-7 last season, concluding their slate with a loss to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl. Their only notable win was a 38-23 victory over UCLA in Pasadena.

Defensively, ASU was awful against the pass in 2015. They were the nation’s worst in passing yards allowed, surrendering 338 per game. And they were No. 108 in pass defense efficiency. 

On the flipside, the Sun Devils’ 46 sacks was third best in D-1 college football. Clearly then, Arizona State often got home with their frequent blitzes, but were torched regularly in the process. If Patrick Mahomes’ mobility is sufficient to elude Sun Devil rushers, look for the Red Raiders to hang at least “half a hunnert” on ASU.

Arizona State was a more sound and solid team offensively in 2015, averaging 35 points per contest. But departures leave the offense full of gaps and question marks.

Starting quarterback Mike Bercovici, a very capable player, is gone, and none of his potential replacements are likely to be up to scratch when Texas Tech rolls into town. Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins is perhaps the likely starter, but he got next to no playing time last season. The other prime options are redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins.

The only returning receiver of note is Tim White who caught 57 passes a year ago, averaged 11 yards per grab, and hauled in eight touchdowns. 

The offensive line returns only one starter, but running back will be the strength of the team, with the return of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, who combined for 1,757 rushing yards last year. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Ballage will be one of the biggest backs Tech will see all season.

In Demario Richard, Texas Tech’s beleaguered run defense will face a stiff test. Richard, who rushed for 1,104 yards last season and averaged 5.3 yards per tote, is an upright and very physical back. He is particularly good between the tackles, where he often breaks tackles, runs defenders smack over and finishes carries with authority. Richard will not go down with an arm tackle. He also has exceptional balance, so wrapping him up will be key in getting him to the turf. Given those traits, it is easy to see why Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio offered him a scholarship coming out of high school.

Richard is also a good receiver, having caught 31 balls for 303 yards last season, averaging 9.8 yards per grab.

The Sun Devils were pretty stout against the run last season, and linebacker Salamo Fiso had a big hand in that stinginess. He led the squad in tackles with 99, recorded an outstanding 20 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Fiso also grabbed an interception and broke up two passes. 

Fiso is regarded as an exceptional all-around ‘backer. He plays the run exceptionally well, is solid in coverage, and is capable of rushing the passer. Texas Tech’s revamped offensive line will have its hands full in trying to neutralize Fiso. 

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