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ASU Football: Storylines to watch against Oklahoma State

A lot has to go right, but can it?

Zac BonDurant

Two weeks ago, a lot of people would not consider Arizona State a competitor in its week two matchup against no. 11 Oklahoma State. Pessimism is a logical mindset. A lot happened in the offseason.

Though most people are in agreement that ASU took care of business against NAU, and now, after the convincing win, the question repeated itself all week.

Could they actually do this?

A lot would have to go right in order to take down last year’s Fiesta Bowl champions on the road in Stillwater, but it’s college football. Anything can happen. And to make it happen, it will take some maneuvering from the Sun Devil staff.

How will DC Donnie Henderson’s game-plan for the high-octane Cowboy offense?

A huge storyline all fall for the Sun Devils has been how they will replace all four of last years’s starters in the secondary. Saturday will show us how talented the defensive backfield is against top-tier speed and size.

“I think the biggest thing, besides the quarterback, the other concern I have is the tempo,” Henderson said. “You know, they’re on the ball a lot and that can become frustrating if I don’t get the calls out to the defense, they become uneasy a little bit.”

Two of the unit’s most experienced players, Timarcus Davis and Jordan Clark, returned to practice this week, but cornerback Ed Woods, who started against NAU, sustained an injury in the 40-3 win and will miss the Oklahoma State game. Davis will play, and Clark is questionable.

Oklahoma State’s offense, spearheaded by electric quarterback Spencer Sanders, will test this group. The Cowboys often play with three-or-more receivers, so ASU will have to run out one (nickel) or two (dime) extra defensive backs. D.J. Taylor solidified himself as the nickel corner when Clark is unavailable, and he also broke up a pass last week that led to Chris Edmonds’s interception.

Up until practice this week, ASU did not implement a ton of dime looks. So who steps up? We can assume Ro Torrence and Davis will start on the outside, and Clark or Taylor at nickel. The depth chart would point to Macen Williams and Keon Markham as the next guys up. Will Henderson elect for speed with Williams and Taylor at the same time, if Clark can’t go?

Questions like these will be answered closer to kickoff.

Can ASU’s “bread and butter” on offense control the tempo? Or keep up?

Edwards and offensive coordinator do not want to get into a shootout with the Cowboys. Instead, they will try to dominate the tine-of-possession game, and keep Sanders off the field as long as possible.

This is done through the running attack, which happens to be right in the Sun Devils’s wheelhouse. X Valladay unsurprisingly exploded onto the scene in his Sun Devil debut with 116 rushing yards and two scores. Daniyel Ngata broke off a few first down runs as well.

ASU won the time-of-possession battle against NAU by almost 13 minutes, and only committed one turnover. A similar showing in Oklahoma would drastically improve ASU’s shot at victory.

This also means Emory Jones will have to play a clean game, and control the tempo. Turnovers and penalties could be the Sun Devils’s demise.

Who steps up for a memorable individual performance?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dominant performance, but in upset victories, there are usually plays, or a players, that feed into the underdog ethos. For ASU, that will likely have to come on defense. Turnovers are an expectation, and a takeaway at the right time could suck the air out of Boone Pickens Stadium.

“That’s our deal every week,” Edwards said. “You have to get two turnovers.”

Captain Kyle Soelle logged the first interception of the season against NAU, and was very close to picking off a second one. Merlin Robertson roamed from sideline-to-sideline in a suffocating manner. Taylor and Edmonds also made plays.

If the Sun Devils compete, who will it be this time around? Defensive end Travez Moore stood out last week after initially not starting at defensive end. Moore continues to take advantage of his reps, and a breakout game from the former LSU transfer could skyrocket him to national levels. If there’s a below-the-surface player to pick, Moore is the guy.


ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives ASU a 21.1% chance to win Saturday. The Sun Devils are 11.5-point underdogs.