As the Sun Devils’ position battles begin to sort themselves out and potential breakout candidates have identified themselves over the past few weeks, it’s time to take a look at what ASU will be going up against in week one against New Mexico State.
NMSU head coach Doug Martin has been with the program since 2013 - the Aggies’ Tyler Rogers has been starting under center since 2014 - and in that time the pair have identified a clear attack on the offensive front during their tenure in Las Cruces together.
Martin and company run a fairly straightforward read option scheme, which is a bit different than the Devils run-pass option. ASU’s attack last year was predicated on having three unique options to rush the ball out of the backfield (Manny Wilkins, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage) and skill players both in the slot (Tim White) and on the outside (N’Keal Harry) to run simple slants and screen plays to create space.
NMSU’s approach is far less reliant on skill players - such is life as a non power-five conference program. Generally, the Aggies aim to overwhelm defenses with the amount of offensive options available and incorporate complex, shifting blocking schemes that allow for Rogers to flourish in the option.
Take this third down and three situation for example. Of course, the Aggies don’t have the playmakers in Harry, Ballage or Humphrey that ASU does, but they do have an extremely versatile attack. They take the field with three wideouts - none of them in the slot - and two options in the backfield in addition to Rogers. This forces Kentucky into man coverage in the secondary and a situation in which they have to commit defensive backs to stop the run as well. This is a risky strategy, and the Aggies shift their blockers from right to left and Rodgers follows them through a huge hole in the near side of the line.
Starting from the gun, moving weapons and blockers around and still running the option is the theme here for the Aggies. On this third and long during their week eight matchup against Texas A&M, Rogers starts out with just one alternative in the backfield with him - on a likely passing down - yet still brings another halfback into the mix. This ‘slot receiver to shotgun’ motion was called by Martin at around fifteen times in this game, and allows the Aggies to once again fluster the defense and force A&M to make a commitment on one side or the other.
So, what does all of this mean for the Sun Devils as we approach the first game of the season?
Arizona utilized a similar running attack to dismantle ASU at the end of last season, but it’s more likely than not that NMSU incorporates more passing into their option attack in the season opener. With ASU linebacker Christian Sam returning and a reinvigorated front seven, the Sun Devils should be able to limit the production of the Aggies’ two best rushing options.
Whether it’s a pass or a rush, Martin loves to send his linemen in motion post-snap. In this second and short situation, the left tackle immediately shifts across the backfield as Rogers fakes the handoff to Larry Rose III and rolls out to the right side. This provides plenty of time for Rogers to find a wide open receiver across the middle of the field.
I fully expect the Aggies to utilize this play action/shifting block scheme in the passing game more often than they rush, but if the Devils once again display an inability to make consistent tackles, NMSU will likely pound the ball on the ground all night.