As the Arizona State Sun Devils head into a bye week with a matchup against the No. 6 Washington Huskies on the horizon on October 14, we’ll take a few minutes to discuss what we’ve seen from ASU so far.
Staff Writer Mathew Tonis joins Co-Managing editors Josiah Destin and Maxwell Madden for our mid season roundtable.
1. Who is your mid season MVP?
Tonis: So far, the MVP has to be Manny Wilkins. He's had his ups and downs, but he's completed nearly 66 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns through the air with two more on the ground. He's been helped by a stacked receiving corps, but the difference in how the offense played was clear in the second half against Stanford when Wilkins wasn't at 100 percent. If he can get back to form during the bye week, the Sun Devil offense should be just as potent for the remainder of the season.
Destin: I have to give it to Manny Wilkins. Yes, he may have mad a major hiccup against Stanford, but he put himself on pace to have a possible over 3,000-yard season with another year of eligibility before him. Wilkins has also gotten the WRs involved. Five different wide receivers have had an 100-yard game. That's the most in school history.
Madden: Has to be Wilkins. When he is rolling — as he as been — the offense is effective and there is far less pressure applied on the defense. He’s not only limited turnovers this season, he’s expanded his skillset as a quarterback. Wilkins can rear back and fire an accurate deep ball and hit the tough out routes, utilizing the talents of both downfield threats in N’Keal Harry and John Humphrey and the slot technicians in guys like Jalen Harvey. This team needs a healthy Wilkins more than any other player on the roster.
2. Who/what has been the biggest surprise this season?
Tonis: The biggest surprise to me was how long it took the ground game to get going. With senior backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, I thought the rushing attack would come out of the gates ready to go, but neither feature back has been able to consistently produce. Both have had flashes and the Stanford game showed signs of life, but there's a long way to go to make it the consistent weapon it has been.
Destin: Kyle Williams. After just six catches for 56 yards in his freshman season, he's already surpassed 250 yards as a junior. I would not have guessed that.
Madden: Has to be Kyle Williams right? He’s proven to be the most versatile weapon on the ASU offense, being utilized in the slot, deep down the field and on quick rushing plays around the outside and up the middle. Not many of us saw Williams having this large of a role in the team, but he’s been a key component of the success of this offense.
3. Who/what has been the biggest disappointment?
Tonis: The biggest disappointment has been the run defense, in general. It went under the radar just how bad last year's run defense was because of how horrific the Sun Devils were at stopping the pass, but ASU allowed at least 201 yards on the ground in five of its last six games. That's bad. The Sun Devils have already allowed two backs, SDSU's Rashaad Penny and Stanford's Bryce Love, to each rush for over 200 yards in a game. While they're two of the best in the country, you can't expect to do that and win. With running backs like Myles Gaskin and Ronald Jones III/Stephen Carr ahead, ASU needs to figure it out, and fast.
Destin: It hurts to say it, but I've got to say defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. Though it seems he'd be a major upgrade, ASU has given up 36.4 points per game, and its pass defense resides at 125th in the nation.
Madden: The lack of a run game. It’s pretty hard to believe that a backfield led by Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard could be so bad, especially when you consider how much time the backs have had to develop a consistent attack. Heading into the bye, the Sun Devils are averaging an abysmal 3.05 yards per carry on the season. That’s nowhere near good enough, and something that will have to change quickly is Wilkins misses extended time.
4. Has your outlook of the team changed from week one?
Tonis: To be honest, not much at all. The defense has been a little better than I thought it would be, but it hasn't translated to any more success on the field. We all knew the offense had a chance to be productive and it's done just that, for the most part. I thought ASU needed to be over .500 at this point if it wanted to be bowl eligible, so there's a lot of work to be done in that department, but if you had told me before the season that the Sun Devils would be 2-3 at this point, I would not have been shocked at all.
Destin: I was sure ASU would beat either San Diego State or Texas Tech, but I was wrong. If you asked me before the season, I would have thought ASU would be 3-2 right now.
Madden: I had the team at 5-7, so a 2-3 start isn’t incredibly surprising. For the most part the pass defense has been atrocious as expected and the offense has been pretty potent. A few of my colleagues noted that with the difficult stretch the Sun Devils are heading into, ASU needed wins in the first three games and the last three games to remain bowl eligible. After they started out 1-2, the Devils had better find some wins in the middle of a tough run of matchups if they still want to attain that goal.
5. What is the most intriguing matchup left?
Tonis: I've got Nov. 11 at UCLA circled on my calendar. So far, ASU has had Josh Rosen's number. Despite big yardage games, Rosen is 0-2 against the Sun Devils and was battered around in both of those games. Without Koron Crump, I'll be interested to see how ASU attacks Rosen and the Bruins, especially since that game will likely be pivotal to ASU becoming bowl eligible.
Destin: I'm looking at the USC-ASU matchup just because ASU is doing the "stripe out." it should be cool to see if it works. No, but really I want to see how a somewhat injury-plagued USC team plays against some hungry Sun Devils on the road.
Madden: I think November 4 against Colorado is a big matchup. The Sun Devils will have just been run through the gauntlet and looking to rebound with just a few games left to win and reach the postseason. Colorado has looked extremely vulnerable at times this season and an ASU victory in Tempe would be just the confidence boost this team would need.