The Sun Devils appeared to be one of the stronger teams in the PAC-12 South to begin the year after a quick 5-1 start. Their luck quickly turned with an injury to Manny Wilkins and ensuing quarterback turmoil which has yielded a current four-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, the Huskies are beginning to encounter problems of their own. Their pass rush hasn’t been the same since losing Joe Mathis, and now with a loss under their belts and Azeem Victor sidelined this could be a make-it-or-break=it weekend for the Dawgs.
Arizona State’s fighting for bowl eligibility. Washington still controls their PAC-12 destiny and can keep their playoff hopes alive. Both teams are in need of a win. Let’s see who the Sun Devils will call on to try to make that happen for the visitors.
Players to Watch
#5 SO 6’3” 197-pound QB Manny Wilkins
2016 stats: 134 of 221 for 1730 yards, 60.6% completion, 7 TD, 7 INT, 93 carries for 185 yards, 2.0 YPC, 5 TD
Scoop: Wilkins’ injury and inconsistency plagued second half of the year overshadow what was a good start to the beginning of the year. He puts some zip behind the ball and likes to connect on screens and short passes to get the ball to his receivers in space. He also is a much better runner than the numbers suggest. ASU has allowed the most sacks in the PAC-12. In three of his eight games, he’s had a combined -82 yards. If you discount those games he’s averaging 4.45 yards per carry.
#7 JR 6’2” 227-pound RB Kalen Ballage
2016 stats: 113 carries for 548 yards, 4.5 YPC, 13 TD, 30 receptions for 381 yards, 1 receiving TD
Scoop: This bowling ball of a running back moves a lot more swiftly than his size would suggest. He has a nice combination of strength and agility that make him hard to slow down. He’s found the end zone 14 times this season, however eight of those came in one game. In five of his last six games he’s been held to under four yards per carry, but his ability to hurt you on the ground and through the air will make it easy for him to break out of that slump at any time. He also returns kicks, which at his size is awesome and intimidating all at once.
#4 JR 5’10” 219-pound RB Demario Richard
2016 stats: 140 carries for 534 yards, 3.8 YPC, 3 TD
Scoop: The shiftier of the two backs still has a big body and can pack a punch. They hand him the ball more than Ballage, but he isn’t nearly as dangerous as a pass catcher. Richard’s 3.8 yards per carry is surprising given he has averaged over five yards a carry in each of his previous two seasons with ASU. He’s an effective runner that hasn’t found any luck yet this year.
#12 SR 5’11” 175-pound WR Tim White
2016 stats: 49 catches for 623 yards, 12.7 YPC, 1 TD, 13.7 yards per punt return, 1 punt return TD
Scoop: Tim White was a new comer last year as a junior college transfer, but immediately made an impact hauling in eight touchdown receptions. He hasn’t been as much of a threat to score this year, however he’s been by far the most reliable receiver for the Sun Devils. He’s a quick player out of the slot and can move the chains going over the middle or picking up yards after the catch on screens. He’s also a dangerous special teams player, making his mark as a returner.
#1 FR 6’4” 220-pound WR N'Keal Harry
2016 stats: 43 receptions for 494 yards, 4 TD
Scoop: The Huskies were after N’Keal Harry until the very end of the 2016 recruiting class, but then again who wasn’t? The kid doesn’t look like a freshman, and he doesn’t play like one either. He’s coming off his best game thus far, racking up career highs in receptions with eight and yards with 114. His size is a lot to handle on the edge.
#1 SO 6’3” 263-pound DE Joseph Wicker
2016 stats: 34 total tackles, 10.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks
Scoop: ASU’s affinity for blitzing has given Wicker a lot of opportunities for one on one match ups at the line of scrimmage and he’s taken advantage. He’s not the biggest defensive lineman, but he’s quick and talented off the edge.
#4 JR 6’3” 218-pound LB Koron Crump
2016 stats: 30 total tackles, 10.5 TFL, 9.0 sacks
Scoop: Although he’s only 218-pounds, Koron Crump has been dominant rushing the passer. His speed and athleticism allows him to get to the quarterback with relative ease. It’s very difficult for offensive linemen to keep up with his initial burst. He’s made his first season at Arizona State a memorable one.
#58 SR 6’0” 240-pound LB Salamo Fiso
2016 stats: 34 total tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT
Scoop: Suspension and injury has taken its toll on his numbers this year, but Fiso is an absolute monster of a tackler. He’s 11 tackles shy of 300 in his career. Last year he registered a staggering 101 tackles and 21.5 tackles for a loss. Make no mistake, he’s the most experienced and one of the most talented players on this defense and will fly all over the field on Saturday.
#3 JR 6’0” 228-pound LB D.J. Calhoun
2016 stats: 62 total tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Scoop: His career started with a bang, registering five tackles while registering a start in his first career college game. As a sophomore he was more of a pass rusher, sacking the quarterback five e and a half times while recording just 20 tackles. This year his role has expanded a ton, and he’s tied for the team lead in tackles and tackles for loss. He’s a multi-talented linebacker with a great blend of speed and physicality.
#31 JR 6’2” 223-pound LB/S Marcus Ball
2016 stats: 62 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT
Scoop: Coming into this season, Marcus Ball had 14 tackles in his career. Now that his usage has increased, he’s even made 14 tackles in just one game this season. He’s got nice size and speed, allowing him to play coverage in the pass game while still supporting the run game.
#25 SO 5’11” 198-pound CB Kareem Orr
2016 stats: 45 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 4 PD
Scoop: Orr took the conference by storm last year, picking six passes off while knocking another eight down on his way to Freshman All-American honors. This year he’s the biggest name in that secondary, and as a result hasn’t seen a lot of targets, at least relative to his teammates. He’s yet to record an interception this year, but if people try to test him any more it’s bound to happen sooner than later.
What does the Arizona State Offense look like?
If Husky fans are feeling sorry for themselves following the losses of Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor, they should take a look at Arizona State for a little perspective. Their quarterback situation was so bad that they were forced to burn Dillon Sterling-Cole’s redshirt, as he was the only scholarship quarterback available. The entropy took the Sun Devils momentum and sent it spinning in reverse. Their 34.7 points per game ranks in the top half of the PAC-12, however they’re scoring less than 25 points per contest over their last six games.
The Wildcats run a relatively fast offense, running just under 75 plays on an average Saturday. They tend to push a little quicker tempo when they start to get some momentum. They run the ball a little more than they throw it, but have had more success through the air. Tim White is Manny Wilkins’ favorite target. Wilkins gets the ball out of his hands fast, most frequently to White on a screen or quick hitter underneath. The up-and-coming target is N’Keal Harry. Washington wanted him badly and for good reason. He’s a monster of a man that can out-physical just about any corner he encounters.
Arizona State’s backfield is a two man committee. Kalen Ballage has an impressive 14 touchdowns of the year, however eight of those came in a single game. He’s built like a freight train, but moves more like a sedan. To top it off, he’s a reliable target out of the backfield. His shiftier counterpart, Demario Richard, actually has more carries than Ballage. He had a solid start to the year, gaining close to 300 yards in the first three games, but he hasn’t topped 70 since. He’s shown the ability to do damage in prior years, picking up over five yards per carry as a freshman and sophomore. This year, however, has seen a drop in production.
The true reason the Sun Devils have struggled of late could be their offensive line. They have allowed a conference worst 33 sacks to go with 75 tackles for loss. A Washington team that has struggled with pass rush could get healthy against Arizona State.
What does the Arizona State defense look like?
The Sun Devils have a reputation for rolling the dice on defense, hoping to create enough turnovers and tally enough sacks to make up for the big plays they’ll give up as a result. The Sun Devils are tied for fourth in the conference in sacks and have the PAC-12’s second best run defense, largely due to their propensity to bring pressure. However, this year the rewards of their style cower in the shadow of the risks. ASU allows 387.4 passing yards per game, which is the worst in the conference by over 90 yards and about twice as many yards through the air allowed by the Huskies.
They line up in a sort of nickel with three down linemen, three linebackers, a rover-type safety, and four defensive backs. Their most productive group is their linebackers, largely due to the frequency with which they blitz. Marcus Ball is their rover and he’s tied for the team lead in tackles. The co-leader, D.J. Calhoun, also is a linebacker. He is one of three Sun Devils with 10.5 tackles for loss. Salamo Fiso’s numbers are down this year, but that’s because he’s missed five games due to suspension as well as injury. He had over 100 tackles last year and will be sure to make an impact this weekend if he’s available. Koron Crump’s nine sacks coming off the edge lead the team by a ways.
Their defensive line is small, with no player exceeding 300 pounds. However the additional pressure they bring helps give their playmakers one on one match ups and eventually into the backfield. Sophomore end JoJo Wicker is dangerous off the edge; he’s the third of three players with at least 10 tackles for a loss. Tashon Smallwood has also had a solid season thus far, stuffing a tons of carries at the point of attack.
The Sun Devils pass defense is abysmal but they still have a couple players to watch in their secondary. Kadeem Orr was a Freshman All-American last year and is the most talented player in ASU’s defensive backfield. De’Chavon Hayes leads the team with three interceptions and has been one of the lone bright spots in a team that has struggled to force turnovers.
Keys to the Game
1. Protect Manny Wilkins - The Sun Devils have the worst offensive line in the conference, giving up 33 sacks in just 10 games. Wilkins has been banged up for a while now and likely won’t move as effectively as he normally can. If ASU can’t keep Washington’s pass rush in check, which has been ineffective since the loss of Joe Mathis, it could be a long game for the Sun Devils.
2. Take care of the ball - Arizona State is tied for 10th in the PAC-12 for turnover margin while Washington leads the conference. Winning the turnover margin could make an uphill battle easier. Losing it would make it a whole lot harder.
3. Pressure Jake Browning - Jake Browning has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this year. On the other hand, Arizona State’s pass defense has been the worst in the country by a mile. If they can’t get Browning uncomfortable with their blitzing, then he can sit back there and pick apart the Sun Devil defense and hang a big number on the scoreboard.
1. Get rhythm back - The Huskies, who average nearly 45 points a game, have been limited to less than 35 in two of their last three games. Here’s their chance to get some momentum back, which could be crucial heading into a massively important Apple Cup.
2. Find pass rush - Again, Washington hasn’t been able to rush the passer since they lost Mathis. If they can find a way to get to Wilkins a few times this week that could give guys like Connor O’Brien and Benning Potoa’e confidence heading into the closing stages of the season.
3. Do it for the seniors - Saturday will be the final home game for a handful of seniors who have contributed a ton to this team. They’ve been through a ton, and a strong finish to the season would be a great way to send them off.