Who: Texas Tech (1-0, 0-0) vs. Arizona State (1-0, 0-0)
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
When: Saturday, September 10, 9:00 p.m. (CT)
Media: Fox Sports 1 (TV), Texas Tech Radio Network (radio)
Returning Starters: Texas Tech (12), Arizona State (11)
2015 Records: Texas Tech (7-6, 4-5), Arizona State (6-7, 4-5)
Coaches: Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury 20-19), Arizona State (Todd Graham 35-19)
Series History: tied 1-1 (most recent, Texas Tech 37, Arizona State 23, Dec. 30, 2013)
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Based upon the results of ASU’s season-opening win over Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils will display a run-oriented attack against the Red Raiders. Arizona State ran the ball 46 times while passing it only 27 times.
Reliance on the run accords with ASU’s personnel. Prior to the Northern Arizona game, not quarterback on Arizona State’s roster had every thrown a football in a college football game. Starting QB Manny Wilkins, moreover, is a dual-threat quarterback whose strength is running with the football. Against Northern Arizona Wilkins ran the football 14 times for 89 yards and that yardage includes being sacked three times. Given that relatively high number of sacks against decidedly modest competition, Wilkins may at this point have more broken-field running ability than pocket awareness, something that Texas Tech’s defensive linemen may capitalize on.
In addition to having a mobile quarterback, the ASU offense features a pair of bruising running backs in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Richard checks in at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, while Ballage goes 6-foot-2, 225. The pair combined for 136 yards on 29 carries against Northern Arizona.
Texas Tech’s defense was, by most lights, a pleasant surprise against Stephen F. Austin. In particular, the run defense was impressive. The Red Raiders held SFA to negative five rushing yards in the first half and 58 for the entire game. Texas Tech, flush from a talent influx in the form of Ondre Pipkins and Kolin Hill, transfers from Michigan and Notre Dame respectively, simply threw up a wall which SFA ball-carriers were unable to penetrate.
Texas Tech’s pass defense was acceptable, if not so dominating as the run defense. The Red Raiders played a fairly soft zone for most of the game, which allowed SFA to gain yardage on the underneath stuff, but prevented any explosive plays. It’s entirely possible that Tech will use a similar approach against Arizona State.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Texas Tech’s offense if a pass-first affair and head coach Kliff Kingsbury makes no bones about it. The Red Raiders will begin games by attacking defenses with the pass and they will continue to do so until those defenses manage to stop it. Suffice it to say that Stephen F. Austin never came close to shutting down Tech’s passing game in the season-opener. Consequently, Tech’s running backs carried the ball a combined 14 times.
Gifted quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the catalyst for the offense, and is one of the premier players in all of college football. In a bit over one half, Mahomes passed for 483 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 57 more yards and another pair of TDs.
One area of concern for the Tech offense is the fact that two freshmen, Terence Steele and Madison Akamnonu, start at the tackle positions. They more than held their own against Stephen F. Austin, but will the challenge will be redoubled against an Arizona State defense that loves to blitz. Testing the mettle of the freshmen will be perhaps the centerpiece of ASU’s defensive gameplan.
And speaking of Arizona State’s defense, they are historically tough against the run and atrocious against the pass, and that characterization held quite true against Northern Arizona. NAU rushed for only 56 yards against the Sun Devils, but passed for 369 clicks. Lumberjack quarterback Case Cookus completed 23 of his 33 passes and threw one touchdown pass and no interceptions. He was also sacked only once. ASU will have to be much more active and effective against Mahomes if the Sun Devils hope to keep the Red Raiders from scoring at least 50 points.
If ASU is to succeed in discomfiting Mahomes, it will begin up front where Arizona State’s best talent lies. Sophomore defensive end Jojo Wicker was a freshman All-American last season and is a star in the making. Tashon Smallwood and Renell Wren are Wicker’s henchmen in the trenches, and they’re a solid pair.
The other ASU defender of note is cornerback Kareem Orr who recorded six interceptions for the Sun Devils last season. Problem is, he doesn’t have much help back there.