Arizona State Sun Devils (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) vs. UTSA (1-1, 0-0 C-USA)
Kickoff: Friday, September 16 - 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 p.m. ET
Television: ESPN2 (Mark Nealy, Ray Bentley)
Radio: ESPN Phoenix 620/TuneIn App (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Derek Hagan)
What ASU is Wearing: The Sun Devils will be sporting their traditional road look of gold helmets, white tops and gold pants. The Sun Devils are wearing their gold helmets with the regular-sized pitchforks.
Series History: This is the first meeting between Arizona State and Texas-San Antonio.
UTSA in 2016: Under new coach Frank Wilson, the Roadrunners have started the 2016 campaign 1-1. The Frank Wilson era got off to a good start when UTSA opened the season with a 26-13 victory over Alabama State in which they gained nearly 500 yards on offense and forced four turnovers on defense.
In their first game against an FBS opponent, the Roadrunners fell to Colorado State 23-14 last weekend in Colorado Springs. UTSA finished the game with minus-one yard on the ground and just 235 yards total in the loss.
ASU on Offense: Holy Kalen Ballage Batman! By now, everybody knows that Ballage tied an FBS record with eight total touchdowns in ASU’s 68-55 victory over Texas Tech, but it was how Ballage scored those touchdowns that might be even more impressive.
Ballage scored six of his eight touchdowns from the “Sparky” formation, a modified version of the Wildcat. ASU executed the formation perfectly, with Demario Richard and even defensive end Christian Hill paving the way for Ballage. Oh, his receiving score came off a double-reverse flea flicker.
“What I like about Coach (Chip) Lindsey is that he understands that the focus of our offense is care of that football. We had one hundred percent ball security in that game and zero sacks, which was the same exact thing in the bowl game,” Todd Graham said. “If you look at two of the three games he has been here, we have done a really good job of taking care of the football with only one turnover in three games.”
Perhaps lost in the magic of Ballage’s performance was the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins. After starting the season 20-27 for 180 yards and an interception, Wilkins rebounded with 351 yards and two touchdowns through the air against the Red Raiders.
“He showed great leadership in times of adversity during week one. This week, he showed his leadership through what he did on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday and then of course on Saturday,” Graham said of Wilkins. “I tell Manny that being a quarterback is like being a head coach. They are going to like you when you win and they aren’t going to like you very much when you don’t.”
WR Cameron Smith: It’s been a slow start to the season for Cam Smith, as he has caught just five passes for 44 yards through the first two games of the season. However, WR Tim White has been limited in practice this week after leaving the Texas Tech with an injury. In his place will steps Smith and former walk-on Fred Gammage.
In 2014, Smith tallied 596 yards on 41 receptions with six touchdowns. He also finished second on the team with 14.5 yards per catch. Look for him to have an extended role with White potentially missing or being limited against UTSA.
OC A.J. McCollum: With the injury to Zach Robertson, RG Quinn Bailey moved out to tackle and starting center Stephon McCray moved to guard. In stepped JUCO transfer and backup center A.J. McCollum, who earned rave reviews from Graham.
“The guy that I am excited about is AJ,” Graham said. “AJ played really well. He has a lot of things he has to improve, but the physicality that he played with- we were knocking them off of the football. Four new starters up front the potential of that group is extremely high.”
UTSA ranks 94th in the nation in rushing defense through two games so this will be a another good chance for McCollum to get some experience before conference play.
ASU on Defense: Through two games, the statistics don’t paint a rosy picture of the Arizona State defense. ASU ranks 128th in the nation in passing defense, 109th in scoring defense and 119th in total defense.
That being said, ASU has been missing Salamo Fiso for the first two games of the season and perhaps their best linebacker, Christian Sam, missed the game against Texas Tech because of an ankle injury.
These injuries have forced some Sun Devil defenders into some unfamiliar positions.
“One of the guys that I want to point out that kind of epitomizes what we’re all about is AJ Latu,” Graham said. “AJ played nose tackle in our nickel package, played devil backer in base, and then on rundowns played SAM linebacker. He played all three positions because of injuries and how we’re depleted, so that was a challenge.”
Throughout the first two games of the season, ASU has pressured less and used more three and four-man rushes. Graham believes if it had not been for a few busted coverages, the Sun Devils would have blown out the Red Raiders.
“With all due respect, going against a team like Texas Tech, we would think with where we were, taking out the critical errors out and the busted coverages, we would win by three or four touchdowns,” he said. “We need to impact the QB, we understand and know that. It’s different how the schedule lines up too. There’s a reason why we did the things we did in week one which was to prepare us to win the game.”
DL JoJo Wicker: Through two games, the Sun Devils have mustered just three sacks despite facing pass-happy teams like NAU and Texas Tech. Wicker leads all defensive linemen with nine total tackles but has yet to record a sack this season. If ASU is going to blitz less this season, it is important for the Sun Devils to get pressure with four and it starts with Wicker.
ASU Secondary: The unit stills has not shown a good amount of improve thus far in 2016 and they have a chance to have a good showing against UTSA before Cal comes to town next weekend. UTSA will feature a vertical passing game and and a passing offense inside of the top-50 in the nation.
Final Analysis: This has the makings of a trap game, as ASU is coming off a big win and potentially looking ahead to conference play next weekend. However, rarely does Todd Graham lose games he isn’t supposed to.
UTSA is better defensively than people might think, ranking 15th in the nation in passing defense and 40th in the nation in scoring defense. Expect the Sun Devils to pull away in the second half and cruise into conference play 3-0.
Final Score: ASU 38, UTSA 17