We asked Viva The Matadors writer Jay Burrous a series of questions about what to expect from the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Then, he fired back with six more questions for Co-Managing Editors Max Madden and Josiah Destin about the 2017 Arizona State Sun Devils.
House of Sparky asks Viva The Matadors
With the loss of Patrick Mahomes, is Nic Shimonek capable of putting up numbers similar to last year's offense?
Burrous: I'd wager he throws for 4,000+ yards this season, but it's impossible to replace a top-10 NFL Draft pick in Mahomes. Shimonek's strengths are in his experience within the system, his quick release, and leadership. We'll likely miss Mahomes's improvisation, and arm talent — but Texas Tech will remain a top offense nationally.
The Sun Devils have ranked last in the nation in passing defense in back-to-back seasons, how many yards do you expect Shimonek to throw on Saturday?
Burrous: I think he'll throw for 380-400 yards, but that's primarily because head coach Kliff Kingsbury wants to run the ball this year (we think that's good?). Also, we only ran 78 plays against Eastern Washington, and the offense was more deliberate. Given that, it seems like efficiency is going to be more important than tempo/yards. To many Red Raider fans, that's a good thing.
Last season Texas Tech ranked last in the nation in points scored against them, has its defense improved since then?
Burrous: If you would've asked me that after our game against EWU, I would have said yes. But, after seeing EWU muster only 200ish yards against North Dakota State in Week 2, I'm going to pump the brakes a little. There's no doubt that we're improved, but whether improvement is a top 80 defense or a top 110 defense remains to be seen. Our linebacker play, and secondary group is dramatically improved though, but defensive line is to be determined.
Arizona State has allowed 12 sacks so far throughout its first two games, do the Red Raiders pose a serious threat to Manny Wilkins?
Burrous: We went out of our way to play contain against the EWU FCS All-American QB. It was rare to see our line push up field in that game, but we had mild success when they did pin their ears back. Against Wilkins, I have no clue what defensive coordinator David Gibbs will dial up. I have to credit the EWU QB for being accurate, and efficient regardless of the pressure. I wouldn't be surprised if we ran a similar scheme against ASU and forced Wilkins to beat us with his arm.
Kalen Ballage ran all over the Red Raiders last season tying an NCAA Division I record eight-touchdown performance primarily using the Sparky formation, who may be able to stop him on Saturday?
Burrous: I'm ok with Tech blitzing 11 players to stop Ballage if that means he doesn't score another touchdown against Texas Tech. Jokes aside, Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen are the x-factors for Ballage. If they can make the right reads, then I doubt Ballage has 8 touchdowns again. Given that, I do think he'll get 100+ yards on the ground though.
Which particular players must perform at their best for the Red Raiders to become 2-0?
Burrous: Keke Coutee needs to go off against the ASU secondary, the two Linebackers need to do their jobs, and the Tech Offensive Line needs to limit the pressure on Shimonek. Should all of that manifest itself, I think we'll give ourselves a great opportunity to win.
Burrous: Texas Tech wins 42-28.
Viva The Matadors asks House of Sparky
Can you speak to HC Todd Graham's current status with the program? Do you feel like his job status is affecting the team at all, or recruiting?
Destin: I don't believe Todd Graham has been under hotter water ever before. Maybe when he lost to Arizona last season, but Twitter/Facebook have been nothing but ridiculous towards Graham after the San Diego State loss. I don't believe it has been affecting the team, but it has affected recruiting. Last year's class was worse than the year before and this year is looking like a frenzy of three stars.
Madden: I think most know that Graham really has to do a lot to survive and advance to next season, but I wouldn't say it's affecting the team much or the recruiting. There is definitely a certain tension within the program with all of that hanging in the balance, but it hasn't affected the product on the field - yet.
What have you seen thus far with the new OC and DC? Should the team play/look much different than last year?
Destin: I don't think much has changed with Billy Napier at the helm of the offense. You'll see a bunch of screens and runs with the occasional long ball. The Sun Devils did go deep more than usual against SDSU. Defensively, ask any ASU defensive back and they'll applaud Phil Bennett for what he's brought to the program. He's almost like a combination of a defensive back coach and defensive coordinator because he loves to be on the field fixing each player's technicalities.
Madden: It's difficult to tell exactly how much the offense has changed, given the fact that ASU - like most programs - doesn't like to display its entire offensive playbook before conference play begins. It's been a lot of the same read-option/screen game with a few deep shots mixed in. The defense has transitioned fully to a 4-2-5 under Bennett, which is something you likely saw a lot of against Baylor in recent years.
Can you speak to the recent attrition of a top defensive back retiring, and some of the transfers from other parts of the secondary? Is that possibly addition by subtraction?
Destin: To be honest, I think Arizona State's secondary would be better with last year's returning starters: Armand Perry, Marcus Ball and Kareem Orr. And it's solely based on experience. But then again, starting corners Joey Bryant and Kobe Williams each had interceptions in their debuts and safeties Dasmond Tautalatasi and Chad Adams haven't been noticeably great or bad. The Sun Devil secondary allowed 398 passing yards against New Mexico State, but Saturday will be its first real test against a Power Five air raid offense.
Madden: Two years ago, the Devils finished last in the nation in pass defense. After that, many thought it would improve because "it has to be better than the worst" and it didn't, ASU finished last again. Now, the secondary has lost both of its best corners in Armand Perry and Kareem Orr and a key leader in safety Marcus Ball. I would be thoroughly impressed if the currently-depleted personnel were able to climb ASU out of the bottom ten in passing defense.
How does the fanbase feel about Manny Wilkins? Would people rather see Blake Barnett?
Destin: Manny Wilkins has thrown for 300 and 298 yards respectively with no interceptions and still gets roasted by ASU fans more than any other player. Blake Barnett is definitely a fan favorite, but if he couldn't outplay Wilkins in practice, it's hard to think he'd outplay him in a game.
Madden: Many were understandably extremely excited and hopeful upon the arrival of Blake Barnett, but he has yet to really make any noise, losing the quarterback battle and playing very few meaningful snaps thus far. Wilkins has played extremely well, but it hasn't stopped many fans from calling for Barnett to replace him. I guess taking the majority of the blame no matter how well you play is all part of being your school's starting quarterback.
What do you feel like are Arizona State's best matchups heading into the game Saturday?
Destin: The entire ASU offensive line, plus Kalen Ballage vs. the defensive line and N'keal Harry vs. the TTU secondary. Arizona State's offensive line has given up 12 sacks through two games ranking 127th in the nation. After Ballage's 8-touchdown performance, he brought the entire offensive line up with him to the postgame press conference. He'll need them on Saturday. Harry hasn't had a breakout performance yet through two games this season. Wilkins threw for a career-high 351 yards last season against TTU, and may be able get No. 1 receiver seriously involved.
Madden: Many think that one of ASU's strongest personnel groups is wide receivers and I'd have to agree. There are elite athletes like N'Keal Harry, solid route-runner/possession guys in Jalen Harvey and Ryan Newsome and a guy that can really stretch the field in John Humphrey. If Wilkins' O-line gives him enough time to dump the ball off, the Devils should be able to take advantage from a skill player standpoint.
Destin: Texas Tech wins 48-45
Madden: ASU has too many problems to iron-out and until they do, I'll roll with their opponents. A matchup against the Red Raiders in Lubbock seems like the last thing Arizona State needs right now, I'll take TTU 65-38