Sun Devils travel to San Diego with hopes of keeping undefeated record
After two games, Herm Edwards and Arizona State have the college football world turning its head. Most recently, the Sun Devils upset a top-15 team in Michigan State.
The Sun Devils didn’t score in the first half, but Manny Wilkins and the offense ignited a spark in the second half. After N’Keal Harry tied the game with a 27-yard touchdown catch, kicker Brandon Ruiz hit a 28-yard field goal as time expired to clinch a 16-13 victory over No. 15 MSU.
The defense also stood out in the win, allowing just 63 rushing yards to MSU’s dynamic running back tandem of LJ Scott and Connor Heyward.
Following the win, ASU found itself in the AP Poll Top 25 at No. 23. Now, ASU shifts its focus to its first road game of the year at San Diego State, who defeated the Sun Devils last year.
“We haven’t been in that atmosphere,” Edwards said in his weekly press conference. “We’ve had the comforts of home the last two games which has been great. Now we’ve got to go on the road and try to win a football game.”
What: Arizona State at San Diego State
When: Saturday, 7:45 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
How heavily will SDSU rely on the run?
In the Aztecs’ Week 2 win against Sacramento State, starting quarterback Christian Chapman sprained his MCL and is now sidelined for almost half a season. With Chapman absent, Ryan Agnew will start behind center, and against Sacramento State, Agnew threw two picks.
Traditionally, SDSU is known as a run-first team, and Juwan Washington is the next man up in a string of strong Aztec backs. In Week 2, Washington rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
However, after ASU stopped the run so well against Michigan State, it is uncertain how San Diego State will run the offense.
Danny Gonzales returns to SDSU
Arizona State hired former SDSU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales to the same position at ASU in the offseason, and so far, the coaching change has benefited the program. In its first two games, ASU has allowed a combined 20 points, which is tied for 16th in the nation.
Serving under head coach Rocky Long at SDSU, Gonzales has plenty of knowledge and experience with SDSU’s system. Gonzales’ prior job could help the Sun Devils prepare for the Aztecs.
Edwards said Gonzales’ previous job at SDSU both is both a positive and a negative for the Sun Devils.
“He’s been in that system so he knows it and they know Danny too,” Edwards said. “That’s going to kind of be the chess match.”
Which running game will show up for ASU?
While ASU fired on almost every cylinder against the Spartans, the running game was near nonexistent in the win. Eno Benjamin ran for just 27 yards on 13 carries, and Isaiah Floyd rushed for just three yards in three carries.
This was a major step down from the running game’s contribution against UTSA, but that’s expected. A year ago, Michigan State led the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed per game with 95.3.
San Diego State’s run defense is no slouch, however. In the season opener, the Aztecs allowed only 29 rushing yards to Bryce Love, last year’s Heisman runner-up, and last week, Sacramento State ran for just 53 yards.
Edwards praised SDSU’s defense, noting that the unit could cause issues for the Sun Devils.
“I think this defense can give you problems,” Edwards said. “It can get you behind the chains and we were behind the chains a lot against Michigan State until about the middle of the third quarter and then we got our rhythm. But they can throw you out of your rhythm.”
Will Harry eclipse 100 yards?
For his standards, Harry had a slow week against Michigan State, other than his touchdown. He caught six balls for 89 yards, his longest being his 27-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
While these numbers seem solid, he struggled to get open early against the double team but found more success later in the game.
In Week 1, SDSU faced another elite receiver in Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The SDSU secondary had trouble with Arcega-Whiteside, and the senior caught six passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
If SDSU’s secondary hasn’t tightened up since then, Harry could have himself a field day.
Key Sun Devils
RB Eno Benjamin
Benjamin struggled on the ground in Week 2, rushing for only 27 yards after a 131-yard season opener. However, Benjamin established himself as a target on screen passes against the Spartans and caught four passes for 54 yards.
If Benjamin can improve upon how he ran last week, he could be a two-headed attack and hard for SDSU to stop.
LB Merlin Robertson
Freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson turned heads against Michigan State and was even awarded Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week. Against the Spartans, Robertson had nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble.
Robertson has been one of the leaders of a defense that looks more disciplined than in prior seasons.
RB Juwan Washington
Washington is third in a string of consecutive great running backs to go through the SDSU program. Before him, Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny were both stars in the Aztec backfield, and in his first two games starting, Washington has already run for more than 300 yards.
What ASU’s defense did to MSU’s Scott and Heyward was impressive, but Washington is on another level. His shiftiness is something the Sun Devils haven’t seen this season.