ASU run game in strength vs. strength battle against OSU D-line
TEMPE — The Arizona State Sun Devils find themselves in a strength versus strength battle against the No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday.
With running the football being a staple of any Herm Edwards-coached offense, ASU will have to establish the ground game against a stout OSU run defense in order to pull off the upset in Stillwater.
Last season, Oklahoma State had the fifth-best run defense in the country, only allowing 87.6 yards per game for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. However, the Cowboys just gave up 122 rushing yards (3.13 per attempt) to Central Michigan in their 58-44 win in Week 1 at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“They’re going to be good up front. I think their D-line is the core of their defense,” Arizona State running backs coach Shawn Aguano said after practice on Tuesday.
“I’ve seen us play against Michigan State with a 17-year-old left tackle so nothing scares us. I just think that we have to make sure that we’re fundamentally sound and stay on our blocks. They’re good with their hands, so I think it’s going to be a good matchup.”
ASU put up a total of 419 yards of offense on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in its 40-3 win last week, 267 of which came on the ground at 5.56 yards per rush, thanks to the one-two punch of Xazavian Valladay and Daniyel Ngata.
“We have some really great backs and I’m excited for them to get loose and I just want to continue that and continue letting them get loose and continue them having over 200 yards,” Sun Devils left guard LaDarius Henderson said after practice on Tuesday. “That’s something as an offensive line we try to pride ourselves on and make sure we continually do. That’s kind of our little mark right there, let’s try to get 200 so that’s our thing.”
Valladay had 116 of those on just 15 carries (7.7 per rush), two of which were touchdowns, while Ngata posted 60 yards on 10 attempts for a six-yard average. Quarterback Emory Jones also added 48 yards on 11 rushes for a 4.4 clip.
“I thought Daniyel worked well off X,” Aguano said. “He gives him a slightly different flavor coming off of that. He’s more of that sliding, flasher guy. I think both will complement each other really well going on in the future.”
Valladay’s first touchdown run of the game included six offensive linemen, tight end Messiah Swinson and fullback Case Hatch in a blocking brigade on a four-yard toss play to the right side that saw the running back practically walk in untouched.
“He has internal drive, intrinsic drive, he’s a mature guy that knows what he wants. He’s very analytical, so he gets through his progressions very well,” Aguano said of Valladay. “But on a day-to-day basis, he’s the guy that I’ve seen watch more film in my running back room than anybody I’ve ever had. And I think from a student learner, that’ll make him more and more special.”
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“When we’re in the red zone, I feel like all the O-linemen are thinking run the ball,” ASU offensive tackle Isaia Glass said after practice on Tuesday. “I think we’re all pretty confident in the run, especially when we have extra guys in. Whenever we have that front end in or that group, we all think touchdown so it’s exciting for sure.”
One of the Oklahoma State players that ASU offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh will be having his O-linemen on alert for will be redshirt senior Brock Martin, one of the numerous seniors that feature on the Cowboys’ defensive line.
“They move him around everywhere: inside the box, outside the box. He kind of travels right until the snap,” Glass said. “I feel like we’re kind of keying off that. We’re doing a lot of game planning, nothing too crazy but I feel like they kind of take pride in being physical. Their starting D-line are all veteran guys, all older guys so they all play well together.”
Another aspect that Arizona State offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas will have to prepare the team for is how loud 60,000 opposing fans will be for a night game on national TV. Because of that, the Sun Devils have been practicing a silent count, with Henderson being the “tapper” — the one that will tap center Ben Scott when to snap the ball.
“I think the bigger the atmosphere, the more exciting (it is),” Henderson said. “You want to play in games like this. You don’t want to play in empty stadiums. Who wants to do that?”