ASU preps for true test in Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders; injury bug bites again
TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils are about to find out exactly what type of football team they have this weekend in Stillwater, Okla.
After ASU blew the doors off the visiting Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 40-3 last week, head coach Herm Edwards and Co. on Saturday are paying a visit to the No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Despite only allowing 120 yards, seven first downs and three points, Arizona State defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said after practice on Monday that the defense against NAU made “a ton of mistakes.”
“We really did and if we’re going to win this game (at Oklahoma State), we’re going to have to correct some of those,” he said. “That’s what showed up (on the tape). … It was fundamental things that you work on every day and then the heat of the moment, guys defer or get a little frustrated — those type of deals. Overall, we were pretty good but we did make a lot of mistakes.”
Arizona State played a “vanilla” defense against the Lumberjacks for a combination of reasons.
First, ASU’s defensive line dominated NAU in both the run and pass game, which meant the Sun Devils didn’t have to use exotic packages to confuse the Lumberjack offense. The other reason, and probably more importantly, Henderson didn’t want to give Oklahoma State any looks on film that Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy could game plan for.
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders had a monstrous day in the team’s 58-44 win over Central Michigan at Boone Pickens Stadium. The QB accounted for six of the team’s eight touchdowns, four of which came through the air with 406 passing yards on 28 of 41 attempts (68%). Sanders also added two scores and 57 yards on the ground on 11 carries (5.2 per rush).
“Athlete, extends plays, I’m scared,” Henderson said of Sanders. “Really reminds me of that guy from Utah (Cam Rising) — he’s a pretty good athlete, can move around, extends plays, knows where the ball has to go, makes all the checks, pretty good player really.”
“They protect well, they’ll sit in seven- or eight-man protection. If you’re bringing guys with the skill guys that got at the receiving core — they got some athletes there too — so you have to pick your poison: down and distance formations, where the game is headed, how you’re playing. But I do think you have to mix it up to keep them off balance. You can’t just sit there and be too conservative and think you’re going to beat a pretty good football team.”
Henderson said that Oklahoma State’s up-tempo offense is also a concern.
And in order to slow the Cowboys’ offense down both literally and on the scoreboard, he will have to get the defensive play call in quickly while also mixing it up and keeping them off balance with various blitz pressure and zone schemes. The Sun Devils DC added that despite not garnering any sacks against NAU, “pressure and sacks are two different things” to him.
“It’s just the situations — third down you’d like to see guys get up the field and be a little bit more physical and faster and hitting the quarterbacks,” he said. “But when it’s first and second down, you got to play a little bit more standard defense and make sure you control the line of scrimmage.
“Now if we get in those situations where it’s second or third and long, we can open up the line a little bit and let them run some games and things like that. I’m much more interested in hits than sacks. … You might get three or four sacks a game, but you can hit the quarterback eight, nine, 10 times and that’s just as good sometimes.”
ASU will also be getting a boost in the secondary, as starting cornerback Timarcus Davis will be returning after missing Week 1 despite warming up in full pads prior to kickoff against NAU. Unfortunately, though, CB Ed Woods, who made his first start last week, was ruled out by Edwards due to a lower-body injury.
The Sun Devils could also see defensive back Jordan Clark make his 2022 debut after he also sat out against the Lumberjacks with a similar knee injury that Davis had. However, after Clark spent time at both safety and nickel corner in preseason fall camp, Henderson said Monday that defensive back D.J. Taylor will remain as the team’s nickel corner and won’t be moved around to outside corner or safety.
Edwards also said Monday that he misspoke about OL Joey Ramos’ diagnosis of a high-ankle injury during Thursday’s postgame press conference and clarified that the offensive lineman is out for the season.
The head coach added that starting right tackle Des Holmes and defensive lineman Gharin Stansbury (hamstring issue), who both missed Week 1 against NAU, are “questionable” for Saturday at Oklahoma State.