Riding two-game losing streak, ASU hosts struggling Oregon State

Sep 28, 2018, 6:57 AM | Updated: Sep 29, 2018, 4:45 pm

AP Photos...

AP Photos

Following a 2-0 start to the year, the Arizona State is back where it started.

Arizona State now rides a two-game losing streak after the Sun Devils’ most recent loss to Washington, bringing them back to .500. Though close until the final whistle, ASU’s offense failed to find its groove throughout the game.

This week, however, ASU returns home and hosts Oregon State, who lost by 21 to Arizona in its Pac-12 opener.

The last time these teams met, in November 2017, ASU took care of business on the road, defeating the Beavers by double digits to clinch bowl eligibility.

Oregon State hasn’t made a bowl game since 2013 and didn’t win a conference game last year, but ASU head coach Herm Edwards said he admires the Beavers’ fight and worth as a Pac-12 competitor.

“They’re a team that always seems to be in the game; they play hard for their coach,” Edwards said. “This is an important game for us because it is a Pac-12 game as well.”

Essential Info

What: Arizona State vs. Oregon State

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Key Storylines

Can Manny Wilkins regroup?

While his stats are comparable to last year and his completion percentage is still rather high, quarterback Manny Wilkins has seen less success throwing the deep ball. Against Washington, he had one of the worst games of his career.

Granted, Washington’s defense is rated one of the best in the NCAA, but his numbers were not good. He completed 17 of 24 pass attempts but finished with just 104 passing yards and zero touchdowns.

Part of his declined efficiency downfield is likely because N’Keal Harry, who has been double-teamed many times this year, hasn’t been able to get open as often.

Because of Washington’s stingy defense, Edwards said he knew it would be tough to create big plays.

“We knew going in, and our receivers knew going in, it’s going to be hard to hit big explosive plays on these guys because of how they play,” Edwards said. “I thought Manny understood, and Manny is fine. Manny just wants to win.”

How much playing time will Trelon Smith get?

After he was suspended for the first two games of the season, Trelon Smith saw significant playing time for the first time of the season against Washington.

Backing up for Eno Benjamin, Smith ran the ball eight times for 45 yards but fumbled twice. His second fumble occurred when the Sun Devils were driving down the field, but Smith lost it and turned the ball over at a critical time.

In spite of the untimely fumble, Smith showed a lot of upside in his performance, shedding tacklers and running for more than five yards per carry. Benjamin will still be ASU’s featured back against Oregon State, but Smith will likely see plenty of carries.

Will ASU’s defense hold Jermar Jefferson in check?

Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson was bottled-up, for the most part, a week ago. After for combining for more than 300 yards against Nevada and Southern Utah, Jefferson rushed for 82 yards on 19 carries.

Recently, however, the Sun Devil front has struggled to stop strong run games, allowing 482 combined rushing yards the last two games.

Jefferson has shown in the early part of the season that he’s a special back, and it will be up to young players like Merlin Robertson to stop the Beavers’ run game.

Key Sun Devils

WR N’Keal Harry

Against Washington, Harry only caught five passes for 20 yards, his lowest since October 2016. Much of this was because of UW’s elite secondary, but for the Sun Devils to return to their offensive groove, Harry needs to once again become the big-play target he’s been throughout his career.

This week could be a good one for him to bounce back because Oregon State’s secondary is among the worst in the nation, allowing 259.8 passing yards per game.

WR/PR Brandon Aiyuk 

Because Harry often picks up a double team, wide out Brandon Aiyuk has seen his production increase as of late. He led the team with 36 receiving yards against Washington.

However, his prowess as a punt returner is yet to be seen, and his lone return against Washington was for one yard. If he wants to keep his job on the return team, he needs to start setting the Sun Devils up with better field position.

Key Beavers

QB Conor Blount

Quarterback Conor Blount has been thrust into playing time after an injury to former starter Jake Luton, and so far, he’s done rather well.

In Oregon State’s loss to Arizona, Blount completed 17 of 24 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. ASU’s front will likely focus in on Jefferson, so whether or not Blount can complete his passes could be a big factor.

LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr. 

Though Oregon State’s defense imploded against Arizona, sophomore linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. played exceptionally in defeat. He recorded six total tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble.

Saturday will be an unofficial homecoming for the Chandler High School graduate, and he will need to play a big role to bottle up and put pressure on the ASU running backs.

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