The running back combo of Eno Benjamin and Isaiah Floyd rushed for a total of 210 yards in the Sun Devils’ 49-7 season opening win over UTSA. But it’d be shocking if the two surmounted that many yards against the Michigan State defense this Saturday.
In four of the past five seasons, the Spartans have ranked in the top 13 defenses in rushing yards allowed. Throwing out their three win season in 2016, MSU ranked second last season, 13th in 2015, first in 2014 and second in 2013. In short, running against the Spartans isn’t easy.
There will be multiple plays where the Arizona State running backs will be stuffed for zero yards and even lose yards. And Herm Edwards knows that.
“I mean they’re the seventh-ranked defense or something like that. It’s not like you’re just going to have your way with them because you’re not,” he said in his Monday press conference. “There’s going to be a lot really bad plays and we have to realize that and we can’t get flustered because this is who they are. You just have to take opportunities.”
Even last week, the Spartans allowed 31 points to the Utah State Aggies. That had nothing to do with their run defense. The Aggies only mustered up 25 yards on the ground on 25 carries.
If that happens to the Sun Devils on Saturday, it’s likely Manny Wilkins will be running away from pressure as Michigan State will only expect pass plays. But once again, Arizona State can’t forget the run, instead they need to get creative with it.
The new backfield duo of Benjamin and Floyd might be able to recreate something Ohio State did last season against Michigan State. While the Spartans held second overall pick Saquon Barkley to 63 yards in their game against Penn State, they couldn’t stop the Buckeyes’ partnership of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins.
Ohio State’s backs each collected over 120 yards in the 48-3 win over Michigan State last season. Weber hit two home runs, while Dobbins got his yards more over time. In one of Weber’s touchdown runs as displayed in the video below, he got on the heels of his linemen before bursting through the hole. Edwards in his presser on Monday credited Benjamin for doing just that.
“Eno is quite the player as you witnessed. He’s tough. He can run inside, run outside. He’s good after contact, has great balance. He understands blocking schemes.” he said. “It helps when you have a running back who knows how to press the whole because that helps the offensive line get to the second level because it brings the linebacker in the trash. When you get the linebacker in the trash then all of a sudden you can break away from that.
“Some running backs don’t press the heel of the offensive linemen when you’re entering at the enter point and that gives the linebacker the ability to scrape to go make plays. But he presses the hole and he has the vision to escape it where you can see a little crease and make a play.”
Benjamin shared his point of view of this concept as well:
“[Runnings back] Coach [John] Simon always brought up the point ‘BOB,’ bring your own blocker. By pressing the hole you’re bringing that linebacker because we got double teams and they got to stay on the double teams for at least till when that linebacker comes up,” he said. “We as running backs have to help our offensive line by bringing that linebacker to them. And sometimes you have to make them miss in space.”
Benjamin and Floyd being able to work off each other and show the Spartans different styles from the backfield can give them more problems. The maroon and gold pair mentioned how they could possibly match what Weber and Dobbins did last season.
“If we come in and have a good practice, just keep getting better every day. The coaches are doing a great job of game planning. I think we can make some noise,” Floyd said.
“Yeah we can do that, but also I think our coaches are going to put us in the best position to be successful on the field,” Benjamin said.
Manny Wilkins will also have a large part in showing unique looks on Saturday. He’ll be in control of read-options, RPOs (run-pass options) and him sometimes scrambling make nothing into something.
Look at the first play of the game from the UTSA game. Wilkins and the Sun Devils run a RPO, N’Keal Harry gets open right away. That made the decision easy for Wilkins. But if the Spartans decide to attempt to take away Harry and not let him beat them on Saturday, Wilkins choice should be easy as he can just let Benjamin or Floyd take the handoff.
The numbers might not look pretty once the game is all said and done on Saturday. But for the Sun Devils to have a chance against the 15th ranked Spartans, they’ll need to stick to their plan as Edwards explained:
“I think our rule is you throw to score and you run to win.”