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ASU Football: Using the Las Vegas bowl to turn to the next page of the program

Looking into next season.

Andrew Palla/House of Sparky

Herm Edwards took his team on a road trip to Las Vegas for sightseeing, hamburgers and milkshakes. It was also the last trip for all of the seniors leaving such as quarterback Manny Wilkins, defensive tackle Renell Wren and safety Demonte King.

Edwards didn’t rule out anyone playing during the team’s game against Fresno State on Saturday in the Las Vegas bowl:

“That’s part of it and I think there are some young guys who have to step up now. I told guys in the meeting today,” Edwards said. “‘Look, this is a game - because we planned it out this way - there’s a lot of guys and freshmen specifically that are going to play because of the (new) four-game (redshirt rule). So we kind of waited and said, ‘OK, if we get into a bowl we can play these guys.’ They’ll practice with us, they don’t get a lot of playing time (in the regular season), only four times you can play a freshman and still redshirt him, so there are some young guys who are going to play and I told them ‘It’s your turn now, I want to see.’

“I think that’s what this [bowl game] is about. You want to win the game obviously but you want to start preparing some of these young guys going into the spring because it’s going to happen very quickly. We start spring ball on Feb. 4 and we’re going to get some early-admitted guys in the spring, some freshmen guys so they get to play. We’re going to see.”

Despite the defense having a youth movement, Wren and King will be valuable pieces that will need to be replaced. Cam Phillips will be the frontrunner to take King’s spot because he filled in when King missed a few games late in the season. Wren’s spot will most likely be replaced by committee.

With freshmen Merlin Robertson, Darien Butler, Aashari Crosswell and Jermanye Lole becoming starters and part of the defense’s improvement this season, defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales hopes the defense won’t have as many freshmen starting next year.

“As a coach, you’re making a huge mistake if you ever plan on a true freshman coming in and playing and having an impact. It’s often too much to ask. We knew those guys were going to have to play,” Gonzales said. “I had no idea we were going to put as much pressure and ask them to do as much as they did. If you would’ve asked me that question last April after we finished spring ball what impact those guys were going to have, I would’ve told you ‘Hopefully they can play.’ If you would’ve told me those guys were going to be the leader of your defense, I would’ve said, ‘We’re not going to be very good at all.’”

Although, the Las Vegas bowl is more for the offense to look into next year. N’Keal Harry will obviously be gone, how will Brandon Aiyuk, Frank Darby and Kyle Williams make up for his absence? That is the challenge Rob Likens will face on Saturday. Fresno State ranks 2nd in points allowed, 17th in yards allowed and allowed the fewest red zone drives in the country.

“It’s actually more simple to call plays because when you move guys around you’ve got to come up with more verbiage and more things to call it to get N’Keal [in different alignments]. We still have a little bit of that, have moved guys around, but you don’t have to worry about it as much,” Likens said. “So what happens for me as an offensive coordinator, when the plays get to be this long you have to actually look down at the sheet and call it instead of just [doing it by memory]...When you’re trying to call plays against a play clock, every second you get helps.”

Guys like Geordon Porter, AJ Carter and Dillon Sterling-Cole will all have a chance to play on Saturday according to the coaches. All for different reasons, Porter has an opening at his position, Carter has talent he hasn’t showcased and Sterling-Cole could be in a quarterback battle this spring.

The outcome of the bowl game may have no effect on the Sun Devils, but who makes an impact in the game will.