We spoke with Building the Dam contributor Joe Londergan to preview the Arizona State Sun Devils’ (5-5, 4-3 Pac-12) matchup with the Oregon State Beavers (1-9, 0-7) on Saturday at 1 p.m. MT in Corvallis.
First, Londergan gave us his answers and predictions on the Beavers, then we gave our insight.
House of Sparky asks Building the Dam
1. ASU and OSU haven't met in three years. What'd Sun Devil fans miss? The Beavers have won just seven games since beating ASU in 2014, but ultimately why are the Beavers 1-9?
Londergan: Well then you guys missed the entirety of the Gary Andersen era. Which, aside from a victory over arch rival Oregon last season, that era wasn't much to see. In terms of this year, it's a combination of injuries, young players not progressing at the rate I think we'd all probably like them too, and the overall chaos that comes
2. After firing a head coach amidst a losing season, it means Corvallis has gone through a brutal storm. Where do you see the program four years from now?
Londergan: I think that's a little hard to answer since none of us have a clue who the head coach is going to be right now. They really need someone who's a big recruiting draw and, in my opinion, somebody a little bit younger. If that happens, then I think there's the possibility of seeing them back in a bowl game in a few years. It's such an uncertain time for that program right now that it's a complete toss up, honestly.
3. OSU played incredibly close games against Colorado and Stanford. What worked in those back-to-back home contests?
Londergan: They were two different kinds of performances, honestly. Against Colorado, the offense had a pretty good day. They converted every drive of that first half into points, but lost a little bit of steam in the second half
4. Ryan Nall seems like the heart of this offense and ASU has had trouble against the run this season. What does he do that makes him so effective? Does the offense operate around him?
Londergan: That's a fair statement that Nall is the heart of the offense. He's got 164 touches (carries and receptions combined) this year, which is equal to the amount of passes starting QB Darrel Garretson has completed. Nall's great at getting yards after contact, for one, and his acceleration for the size of his frame is impressive. It's for those reasons that I think he'll at least get a decent shot an NFL job eventually. But yes, if it weren't for him, this offense would be much, much worse than it already is. Not to say that he is perfect though. In the loss to Stanford he had a critical fumble. He only had 35 rushing yards against Cal too. If he has a bad day, it's going to be a long one for Beaver fans.
5. The Beavers have held just one team under 30 points this season. What's wrong with the defense? How can they make a turnaround on Saturday?
Londergan: I think we all expected a lot more out of this secondary, honestly. But they've allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67% of their passes and given up 241.5 yards per game through the air. But there's been a number of injuries there. There's seven different defensive backs on the injury report right now and the guys left haven't been able to compensate. The rushing defense isn't great either. Other than Manase Hungalu, the Beavs just don't have a lot of start power in that defensive front. If they want to stay in it against the Sun Devils, they just have to find a way to disrupt Manny Wilkins. The second they let quarterbacks get comfortable, they're doomed.
6. Who are the most underrated or lesser known players who may make a big impact against ASU.
Londergan: Freshman safety David Morris has been interesting to watch all year. He's second on the team in tackles. Which, considering he is a safety, that doesn't say great things about the OSU defense. On offense, tight end Noah Togiai gets a bit overshadowed by Nall by he's been a very important contributor in Oregon State's passing game
7. Score prediction?
Londergan: For a while, I honestly thought that this was one of the games that Oregon State might be able to win. But with the way things are going. I'm far less confident in that idea now. I think Arizona State will win 35-20.
Building the Dam asks House of Sparky
1. What's the biggest defense between this year's team and last year's ASU squad?
Destin: The defense and the quarterback. While Manny Wilkins is the same QB under center as last season, he’s improved immensely. The Sun Devils are giving up less than a touchdown per game than they did last season. In games they’ve won, it’s usually because the defense played well (Washington and Utah).
Madden: I actually think there are far more similarities than differences. The defense is incredibly inconsistent and the offense seems to check out during certain key situations — and lack creativity when its needed most.
2. Wilkins has quietly had a pretty decent season. What's your impression of the Sun Devil QB?
Destin: Great, but sometimes he can’t finish drives (UCLA) and hasn’t stepped up in huge situations (Texas Tech). He also commonly makes it obvious when throwing to N’Keal Harry, but at times, that doesn’t matter because he can create space so well. But just four interceptions compared to the nine he had last season is very respectable. He’s thrown for 2,588 yards too. If he gets to 3,000, Wilkins can seriously shoosh some preseason haters.
Madden: He’s definitely much improved both on and off the field. Willins is a much more vocal leader than he was last year and makes smarter decisions with the football, if it weren’t for a few deflections he likely wouldn’t have any turnovers.
3. Who is the definitive MVP of this team, in your opinion?
Destin: Christian Sam. He leads the Pac-12 in tackles (104) and was bound to have a big season after missing 11 of 12 games in 2016. It seems he and DJ Calhoun are so consistent as linebackers that they don’t get talked about very much. If I had two picks, Harry is definitely on my list.
Madden: Alani Latu.
4. If there's one area that you think ASU needs to key in on in order to beat Oregon State, what is it?
Destin: Stop the run. Stop Ryan Nall. ASU allowed for UCLA to be two-dimensional on Saturday, as Rosen threw for 381 yards and the Bruins ran for nearly 200 yards. All Oregon State really has going for them is its running game.
Madden: Finish red zone drives. ASU was one of the best when it came to doing that coming into the UCLA game, but the Sun Devils really struggled to get six in Los Angeles last weekend.
5. With the season winding down, what's ASU's team for next season look like?
Destin: Good. If Wilkins keeps the job, they’ll have a third-year QB, which isn’t common in college football. Plus, they return key receivers N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams. Defensively, not as great. The Sun Devils lose Tashon Smallwood, Latu, Calhoun and possibly Sam, but likely return JoJo Wicker, and Koron Crump. The secondary will be older and wiser though.
Madden: The offense is going to lose a couple key weapons in Demario Richard and Kaelen Ballage in the backfield. They’ll also lose some key leaders on defense. Some guys will have to step up.
6. Top 5 uniforms in college football, ASU excluded. Go.
Destin: 1. Notre Dame 2. Penn State 3. USC 4. LSU 5. Florida State.
And no, the Oregon Ducks are not on there. This is isn’t 2010.
Madden: 1: Oregon 2: Oklahoma State 3: Penn State 4: Ohio State 5: Utah
7. Final score and outcome prediction?
Destin: 35-21 Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils don’t completely stop the running game, but do enough. Wilkins throws for 300 yards for the first time since playing Oregon in September.
Madden: ASU 33, OSU 30