The phrase "must-win” should have already entered the minds of Arizona State’s players and coaches heading into just week three.
An underwhelming 37-31 performance against New Mexico State, then a 30-20 loss to San Diego State that seemed a slap in the face, puts the Sun Devils in danger of falling to 1-2 for the first time since 1999.
Last year, it seemed the winner of the Arizona State Sun Devils (1-1) and Texas Tech Red Raiders’ (1-0) 68-55 shootout was whoever would score last. With Texas Tech’s bold ability to score in air raid fashion and inability to defend effectively, this year’s contest, starting on Saturday at 5 p.m. MT, may feel the same way.
The Red Raiders allowed a nation-worst 43.5 points per game last season, but managed to up its point averaged to 43.7 — good for fifth in the nation and second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma.
With 56 points in week one win against Eastern Washington, senior quarterback Nic Shimonek attained 384 yards and three touchdowns without playing a single fourth quarter snap. TTU’s unexpected feat though was its defense who allowed just 10 points on a pair of second quarter scores. While it seemed a somewhat high achievement against EWU, who posted a 12-2 record in FCS play last season, the Eagles then fell 40-13 the next week at home against North Dakota State.
Aside from picking apart Texas Tech’s defense, this week’s focus should be stopping the Red Raiders’ high-octane offense. Last season, ASU allowed now-Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to achieve a season-high 540 yards in the air. Arizona State’s secondary — equipped with corners Joey Bryant and Kobe Williams — who have each grabbed an interception, gave up 398 passing yards to New Mexico State in its debut.
The key for Arizona State’s secondary will be the turnover margin. Against Texas Tech last season and NMSU in their season-opener, the Sun Devils attained a pair of interceptions each against the two pass-happy offenses. The Red Raiders may gamble deep, but with correct awareness defensive alignment, interceptions could be a game-changer on Saturday night.
On offense, all eyes will be looking to see if the Sun Devils’ run game can regain its form. After posting just 79 rushing yards in week one, the Sun Devils’ run troubles faltered even further, as ASU ran for 44 yards against San Diego State who outmatched ASU with 279 total yards on the ground.
Kalen Ballage’s eight-touchdown FBS record tying performance against the Red Raiders last season wasn’t a fluke, but likely won’t be repeated. In order to be anywhere close, Ballage will need his offensive line step up. ASU’s line has allowed 12 sacks through two weeks, which puts them at second-to-last in the nation.
If Wilkins can orchestrate an efficient passing game — which he has, throwing for 598 yards and no interceptions this season — the Sun Devils may find extra room to rejuvenate its running game.