ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

No. 23 Arizona State focusing on stopping UNLV’s running game

Sep 10, 2021, 7:00 AM | Updated: 7:46 am
Arizona State running back Rachaad White (3) runs for a touchdown against Southern Utah during the ...

Arizona State running back Rachaad White (3) runs for a touchdown against Southern Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona State football coach Herm Edwards started off his weekly press conference on Monday with the critical phrase of the week.

“We got a lot of cleaning up to do on all three phases of our football team.”

The No. 23 will have a chance to improve on last week’s season-opening performance by facing the UNLV Rebels on Saturday night in Tempe.

ASU won its season-opener 41-14 against Southern Utah last Thursday night. However, the team’s 13 penalties were the most in a single game since 2010, when ASU committed 13 penalties in a 41-20 victory over Northern Arizona.

UNLV comes into Tempe off of a tough double-overtime loss against Eastern Washington last Thursday. The Rebels scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to force the game into overtime. In the second overtime, UNLV fell a foot short on a two-point conversion attempt.

Essential info

What: No. 23 Arizona State (1-0) vs UNLV (0-1)

When: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Betting Line via FanDuel: ASU -34.5

TV: ESPN2

Radio: ESPN 620 AM or 98.7 FM HD-2

Sun Devils focusing on run defense

Taking Edwards’ thoughts to heart, defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce is looking to clean things up with his defensive units. According to Pierce, that’s to be expected after the opening week.

“I’m not trying to play a perfect defense in Week 1, but I thought it was something to build off of and grow from,” Pierce said.

The defense’s growing may start by looking at some of the mistakes that allowed two rushing touchdowns.

“Those guys have to do a good job up front of being gap-sound,” Pierce said. “Last week we got caught off a couple times off of some stretch runs [and] we got to do a better job of that.”

Despite that, though, there is a senior example from last week that the Sun Devil defense can look to.

Senior defensive lineman D.J. Davidson earned the Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week award thanks to his six-tackle performance with a fumble recovery.

“That’s what we need,” Pierce said of Davidson’s performance.

After last week’s opener, Pierce believes the game plan that UNLV will present will be good for the ASU defense to play against.

“You love to have a physical game after a game like last week where they’re tossing it around a little bit [with] more perimeter runs,” Pierce said.

UNLV’s potent running back captures ASU’s attention

The nickname for UNLV’s men’s basketball team, the Runnin’ Rebels, could apply to its football team as well. That’s because UNLV loves to use its running game whenever possible.

That running game centers around senior running back Charles Williams.

“We have to tackle this back man, he’s really good,” Edwards said about Williams.

Williams put up big numbers last week with 172 rushing yards, the second-highest single-game mark in his career. His performance made him only the fourth running back in program history to reach the 3,000 career rushing yard mark.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Doug Brumfield completed 5 of 12 passing attempts with 117 yards. Edwards knows about the ability Brumfield brings from previous recruiting efforts. Edwards said Brumfield is a “big, strong-armed guy” with good throwing ability.

Defensively, the Rebels struggled to deal with Eastern Washington’s passing game.

EWU senior quarterback Eric Barriere threw for 374 yards against the Rebels last Thursday while completing 74% of his passes. He is considered a national player of the year candidate in FCS football.

Final thoughts

Saturday’s game presents an opportunity for the Sun Devils to experience a heavy rushing attack. It will put a major defensive mindset to the test as well.

“We’re going to make teams throw the ball,” Pierce said. “We don’t want to allow them to run.”

Pierce believes that the ASU defense will benefit from facing a run-heavy offense early in the season.

“They’re going to play smash-mouth football and we’re going to need that for the upcoming weeks we got coming up,” he said.

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