An Early Look At San Diego State Vs. Arizona State
The Aztecs are looking for a win against the Sun Devils.
Fasten your seat belts. This game is destined to be a real power struggle.
Todd Graham’s Arizona State Sun Devils now don glimmering, shiny gold chrome helmets- and with them, the Sun Devils do sizzle. But how’s the steak?
How does ASU 2017 stack up to San Diego State? Both programs have competed since your grandfather was a young man and, in every matchup, ASU has defeated (or in one instance tied) the Aztecs.
But these are Rocky Long’s Aztecs. The Sun Devils should not shrug this one off. Last year. Sonny Dykes’ Cal Golden Bears cited little concern about San Diego State, shortly before the Aztecs secured the win. Quarterback Davis Webb and company left it all on the gridiron during a never-surrender fight to the end, but still came up short.
Can a firing-on-all-cylinders Aztecs finally claim victory over a rebuilding Sun Devils team? Will the Aztecs’ thirst for big out-of-conference wins overpower the Sun Devils’ painstaking efforts to preserve their undefeated streak?
About Arizona State
The Pac-12 Sun Devils finished last season with a 5-7 record and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in five seasons. While they usually face tougher competition than San Diego State does, they’ve had trouble with a penetrable offensive line. The Sun Devils also had the worst passing defense in college football last year. Add a toss-up at starting quarterback, and it’s easy to say while ASU has a lot of talent, the program is in reconstruction mode.
Offense: The role of starting quarterback will likely be unknown until August. Incumbent Manny Wilkins now has to fend off Alabama transfer Blake Barnett. Wilkins has legs, and Barnett has a cannon. Tough call. Wide receiver dynamo N’Keal Harry returns after a great freshman season (58 catches, 659 yards, five TDs).
Touchdown monster Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard return, but will the line give them a fighting chance? The front line only paved the way for 3.3 yards per carry and very little pass protection whatsoever. The line allowed 41 sacks, which has long been a problem: ASU has allowed at least 38 sacks in each of the last five seasons. Adding salt to the wound, just two starters return to the line this fall.
Defense: ASU had the worst pass defense in college football last year, allowing 357 yards per game and 33 scores. This includes the Arizona game, when the Wildcats threw just eight times.
Phil Bennet, the new defensive coordinator, has a massive undertaking, but he has a reputation for getting defenses running on all cylinders quickly. Koron Crump, ASU’s unanimous defensive player of the year choice with 9 sacks, returns. A few players in the secondary have left, most notably Armand Perry and top cover guy Kareem Orr, who cited “issues that have occurred over the past weeks.”
Top tacklers D.J. Calhoun and Marcus Ball are back, too, along with JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood.
Special Teams: Lou Groza award winner Zane Gonzalez, who set six FBS records, has left. Replacing him is freshman Brandon Ruiz, who turned down Alabama at the last moment to join his hometown Sun Devils. Australian footballer Michael Sleep-Dalton takes over punting.
About San Diego State
The Aztecs are coming off of back-to-back 11-3 seasons, back-to-back MWC Championship wins, and back-to-back bowl wins. They took down Houston in a way that put them as, arguably, the top Group of 5 program in college football, having completed the season inside the AP Top 25.
There is talk of a Mountain West Championship three-peat, and the Aztecs have enough firepower and momentum to make it possible. Make no mistake, the Aztecs have become what they should have been all along.
Despite losing Donnel Pumphrey, Damontae Kazee, Calvin Munson, Nico Siragusa, Alex Barrett, Daniel Brunskill and Kwayde Miller to the NFL, the Aztecs have a formidable lineup for the fall, and should not lose steam in offense, defense or special teams. While Pumphrey was a once-in-a-generation producer, Rashaad Penny might be one of the few people who can truly fill the void.
The Aztecs will be looking for a win in this game, to further establish that not only can they contend with the Power 5 teams: they themselves are indeed a Power 5-caliber program.
Offense: Quarterback Christian Chapman doesn’t garner much attention, but he has been rock solid for the Aztecs. Mikah Holder has been getting better as a receiver, and in the great Donnel Pumphrey’s absence, enter Penny, who quietly rushed for over 1000 yards last season while averaging an impressive 7.5 yards per possession, and another dynamic young running back named Juwan Washington, who debuted solidly last year.
Defense: This is Rocky Long’s calling card, and SDSU defense isn’t afraid to light up the scoreboard. The Aztecs have a large, formidable defensive line and the Aztecs force a lot of turnovers.
Special Teams: Kicker John Baron was money last year, and a deserving finalist for the Lou Groza award. Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year Rashaad Penny along with Quest Truxton, will deliver solid results for the Aztecs once again in 2017.
Coaching: ASU coach Todd Graham is a definite “maybe” for the long term, and has garnered the wrong kind of attention for key weaknesses in ASU’s program. On the other hand, Rocky Long and company are rock solid at San Diego State.
Long led the Aztecs to a Mountain West title two years in a row, and has led SDSU to six straight bowl appearances. Fans and the university alike have unwavering faith in him.
If we see more of the same from the Sun Devils, ASU is going to have a tough time getting offense mobilized against a formidable Aztec defense. If the mismatch were not so notable, this game would have the potential to be a high-scoring shootout.
The Aztecs, playing as well as they ever have, and seeking another 11-win season, are going against an Arizona State team that has high hopes to win eight games. While the Pac-12 is a much tougher conference than the MWC, this is the game for Rocky Long and company secure the first SDSU win ever against ASU.
San Diego State will construct a brick wall on defense, and they will aggressively run the ball on offense. Chapman has many options to score, including reaching the end zone himself. ASU will potentially deploy an air assault if the run game is stopped in its tracks, but they face an Aztecs defense that has turned pick-sixes into an art form.