Through two weeks, the best run defense in the country belongs to the Arizona State Sun Devils. Only allowing an average of 32.5 yards per game on the ground. A step up from teams gaining an average of 176.5 yards against them last year, which had them ranked 79th in Division I.
Their next opponent won’t be easy to stuff and close the running lanes. The San Diego State Aztecs finished 10th last season in FBS rushing for 252.9 per game.
The Sun Devils know all about that, as SDSU rushed for 279 yards against ASU in their 30-20 win. When asked if that would create extra motivation for Saturday’s game, defensive tackle Renell Wren was straight forward.
“Motivation, yes. We’re not really worried about them, we’re not really worried about anyone. I’m just ready to compete each and every week,” he said. “We just take it step by step and doing the fundamentals at practice. Being consistent is the biggest thing.”
Wren also talked about the difference former Aztec defensive coordinator - now Sun Devil Danny Gonzales has made in his short time in Tempe.
“He’s at our heads all the time. I appreciate coach Gonzales, he makes us run after the ball all the time. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or anything,” Wren said. “I remember the saying, ‘big hits and takeaways come from DL chasing the ball.’ Either we disrupt a play, we going to help make the tackle with the defensive backs and everything.”
Gonzales has said plenty about Wren this season and is thrilled with his team so far. But there’s still a ton of season left.
“The most impressive thing that these guys have done that I’m glad they’ve bought in is they’re playing hard. If they continue to play hard, good things will happen. The fact that we’ve been able to get good penetration with our d-line, Renell Wren, I said it a long time ago, I think he can be the best nose guard in the country,” Gonzales said. “Through two weeks he’s making me look pretty good. He’s a good player. We have good players. We have a bunch of really good athletes playing at a high level, playing with energy.
“But we still, and I tell them this every day, we still have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves good. No. 1 in the country and we’ve only played two games. Really, do a whole season and see where we stack up.”
First round pick of the Seattle Seahawks; Rashaad Penny had a field day last year in Tempe. Yes, he is gone now, but just like Penny replaced Donnel Pumphrey, Juwan Washington has filled in the role as the feature back. Through two weeks, Washington has 314 yards on 60 carries and has scored four touchdowns.
The Sun Devils didn’t sell out against the run the first two weeks, and even though the saying is, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” but it might make it easier on themselves if they attempt to not let the run beat them.
San Diego State will have junior Ryan Agnew starting for the first time in his career after starter Christian Chapman hurt his knee in their win last week over Sacramento State. Agnew attempted more passes in that game than he did his first two season as an Aztec combined.
There isn’t a ton of tape on Agnew because of that, which in seem cases can help a team. Luckily for ASU though, Gonzales has been around Agnew the past two years.
“Ryan is a very athletic kid, he’s a very confident young man, he played at Southlake Carroll High School in Texas, he’s fast, he gives them a different dimension with the quarterback running plays,” Gonzales said. “I’m sure coach (SDSU offensive coordinator Jeff) Horton and them, we’ll see a little bit more zone read than what they’ve seen I would guess, we’ll see some quarterback draws that we haven’t seen because he’s very athletic and they have confidence in him.”
In the matchup last year, Chapman only completed nine passes for 73 yards. He wasn’t asked to do too much. If the Sun Devils choose to sell out against the run, a very inexperienced quarterback in Agnew will have to deal with a lot of uncomfortable situations. And if they choose to sell out against the run, there will be passes open parts of the game, but if a quarterback making his first collegiate start is what beats you, then tip your cap and move on.
There is a lot of excited from this game, and even the offensive players want to get some revenge after last year.
“I’m excited for this game. They definitely worked us last year. Obviously, they had Rashaad Penny, great player, first round draft pick. Now they have another good back,” wide receiver Kyle Williams said. “I’m not on defense but it’s going to be a good game. It’s going to be a challenge. I’m excited, I really am. I’m excited to get another gritty battle with my boys.”