By Andrew Gorringe
It’s been a tale of seeming two different seasons for the Sun Devils so far, as most had them written off as having “a down season” after getting blown out by USC at home, 42-10, which followed two unimpressive wins over inferior opponents, and an opening week loss to Texas A&M. Sitting at 2-2, with both wins being much closer than Sun Devil’s fans wanted, Arizona State was searching for answers to their offensive problems, as QB Mike Bercovicci and the rest of the offense had yet to put in a good performance, and were also struggling to take care of the football, as four first half turnovers led to 35 first half points given up to USC. A trip to undefeated UCLA the week after seemed like it would result in another UCLA win, but the Sun Devils had other plans.
Arizona State came out and smacked the Bruins right in the mouth from the beginning of the game, and never trailed from start to finish. The Sun Devils shut down arguably the best running back in the conference in Paul Perkins, holding him to just 63 yards on 18 carries, and held the UCLA offense to just 21.43% on 3rd downs that night. Mike Bercovicci also played his best game of the season, finishing 27-44 for 273 yards, 2 TD’s & 1 INT, and commanded an offense that converted 43.48% of their 3rd down attempts. The win over the Bruins seems to have jump started the Sun Devil football team, as they followed up that win with another convincing win at home over Colorado, 48-23.
Arizona State is certainly feeling good heading in to their matchup with #4 Utah on the road, but that’s not to say that they don’t have some question marks to address before the game. Starting running back Demario Richard left the Colorado game early with a leg injury, which forced him to be on crutches at the end of the game. The full extent of Richard’s injury is uncertain, as most injuries in college football are, but head coach Todd Graham did say in his weekly presser that Richard was, “good. He’s alright” and that he expects him to practice and play this week. Graham has been known to downplay the significance of an injury to his players before, so what he said about Richard may or may not be the truth. If Richard does play, that’s a big deal, as he’s been the most consistent player on the Sun Devil offense this year. Richard is averaging over 5 yards a carry, and is also averaging 40 yards receiving per game, in addition to his 88 yards rushing per game. If he doesn’t play, expect WR/RB DJ Foster and Kalen Ballage to pick up the slack.
Defensively, Arizona State is one of the top defenses in the conference at defending the run, giving up just 138 yards rushing per game, but has struggled against the pass, giving up 244 yards passing per game. In total, this is a defense that is just middle of the road so far this season, as they’re not forcing a lot of turnovers (9) and are allowing their opponents to convert 41.9% of their 3rd downs. There is one more area that the Sun Devils are excelling at though defensively, and it’s the one you’d expect with the aggressive defensive style that Todd Graham teaches, sacks. Arizona State is tied for the league lead in sacks, as they have brought down the opposing quarterback 19 times this season. They will look to confuse the opposing quarterback with multiple exotic blitz schemes, and cause turnovers by bringing lots of pressure.
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Expect a tough, physical game against the Sun Devils, as they will look to establish the inside and outside run game early on with Richard, Foster and Ballage, which will in turn take pressure off Bercovicci to make big plays with his arm. Defensively, expect pressure to be brought on Travis Wilson nearly every snap. This should be another slug fest that comes down to the last possession, just like the last games between these teams.