Arizona State travels to UW for test against rowdy crowd, tough defense
For ASU fans everywhere, Week 3 was disappointing in more than one way.
Despite a surge in the last two minutes, ASU couldn’t come back and lost to San Diego State by a score of 28-21.
After a strong second quarter for ASU’s offense, the Sun Devils were knotted with SDSU at 14 a piece at the half. The third quarter, however, set ASU up for failure, with the Sun Devils producing just 13 yards of offense in the quarter.
Following the loss, ASU is now 2-1 entering Pac-12 play.
For their first conference game, the Sun Devils will travel to Seattle for a game against No. 10 Washington. Last year, ASU took down fifth-ranked Washington at Sun Devil Stadium, but much has changed on both sides since the upset.
“Excited now about entering the Pac-12 division,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “We have nine games left in the season and we go into it with a record of 2-1 against a team that’s highly-touted. They run the ball, they’re very balanced, so this is a good test for our football team.”
What: Arizona State at Washington
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Will Eno Benjamin find his stride?
For the second week in a row, Eno Benjamin struggled in the backfield. In the loss, Benjamin ran for just 21 yards on 13 carries, and as a team, the Sun Devils only rushed for 36 yards.
In fairness to Benjamin, San Diego State’s run defense is statistically one of the best in the nation. But this is the second week in a row Benjamin has been shut down.
Benjamin and the running backs face another tough front this week in Washington, but two consecutive games against stout run defenses might have prepared him for this week.
If Benjamin can’t find holes again this week, he can still be effective in the Sun Devils’ passing game.
Against SDSU, Benjamin caught seven balls for 44 yards. Benjamin is actually fifth in the nation among running backs with 14 receptions.
Will Rob Likens abandon the passing game again?
In the first half against San Diego State, Arizona State found its stride, with quarterback Manny Wilkins combining for two touchdowns and throwing for 235 yards.
However, offensive coordinator Rob Likens abandoned the passing game in the third quarter. As a result, the Sun Devils only recorded 13 yards of offense and -2 rushing yards in the quarter.
It wasn’t until the two-minute drill that ASU decided to bring back its fast-paced, pass-centered offense, and in those two minutes, ASU moved the ball down the field with ease.
This week, Wilkins and the passing attack faces its toughest secondary yet, which averages 170.7 passing yards allowed per game, compared to San Diego State’s and Michigan State’s 284.7 and 349.5, respectively.
Can ASU stop Myles Gaskin?
After a slow week against North Dakota in Week 2, UW running back Myles Gaskin bounced back against Utah. The senior rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown in the 21-7 win.
On the other hand, ASU’s run defense, which entered Week 3 No. 1 in the nation, got shredded by SDSU backs Juwan Washington and Chase Jasmin.
Sure, Washington is one of the NCAA’s premier running backs, but Gaskin is also a playmaker. After allowing 311 yards on the ground last week, ASU’s defense will need to tighten up if it wants to stop Gaskin, according to Edwards.
“We’ve gotta do a better job of that this week and we’ve just gotta stop the run,” Edwards said. “They got us into their game where they could control the game.”
How will ASU perform in first abrasive road atmosphere?
Although last week was ASU’s first true road game, SDCCU Stadium is nowhere near as brutal as the atmosphere at Husky Stadium.
San Diego State’s home stadium seats just over 36,000 people, while Husky Stadium seats 68,000 and is consistently named one of the loudest in college football. The seating format and metal roofs will create a near deafening challenge for ASU, which hasn’t yet experience that under Herm Edwards.
According to Edwards, the team may practice in the Verde Dickey Dome this week to prepare for the noisy atmosphere.
Also, it will be cold.
The low for Saturday is 50 degrees in Seattle, and rain is expected. Not exactly desert heat.
If the road crowd doesn’t make an impact, the weather certainly might.
Key Sun Devils
WR Frank Darby
Though he controversially dropped a pass at the 2-yard line in Saturday’s loss, Frank Darby still put up big numbers. The sophomore caught five passes for 127 yards, two of which were deep passes downfield from Wilkins.
Although it was a devastating way to lose, Darby needs to put the called drop behind him and focus on this week. His speed alone could help create plays against a polished Washington secondary.
DE Darius Slade
In ASU’s first two games, transfer defensive end Darius Slade played a significant role in putting pressure on opposing offenses. His presence was sorely missed against San Diego State.
He sat out of the SDSU game because of a hand injury, but Edwards said he expects Slade to return this week. Slade’s return could be vital to limiting Gaskin’s production.
“We need him,” Edwards said. “We need all hands on deck playing these guys.”
QB Jake Browning
Coming into the season, quarterback Jake Browning was widely regarded as a potential Heisman candidate. While he hasn’t struggled this year, he also hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations.
To go along with his four touchdown passes, Browning has also thrown four interceptions. When pressured, Browning often makes bad decisions, so ASU could win the turnover margin if the front six gets to the backfield consistently.
LB Ben Burr-Kirven
Washington played its best defense of the season Saturday, and senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven was a big reason for that. Burr-Kirven recorded a team-high 11 tackles, which helped the Huskies limit Utah to just seven points, earning him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
If ASU’s offensive line doesn’t step up from last week, Burr-Kirven could have another field day in Week 4.