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ASU Football: Eastern Michigan preview ahead of Saturday’s final non-conference matchup

A reset game

Zac BonDurant

Following its first defeat of the 2022 season at the hands of No. 8 Oklahoma State, Arizona State returns home to Tempe for their final non-conference matchup of the regular season against Eastern Michigan.

In order to enter Pac-12 competition with a winning mark and refreshed optimism, the Sun Devils will need to flush last week’s tough performance down the toilet and lock in on the Eagles who are also seeking a return to the win column before they enter MAC action.

The Eagles

At a 1-1 mark thus far, Eastern Michigan prevailed in their opener against Eastern Kentucky in an offensive battle before succumbing to perennial mid-major power Louisiana by a score of 49-21. While their defense has noticeably struggled, a high-flying offense has been on display early for the Eagles.

Led by senior quarterback Taylor Powell, Eastern Michigan ranks 28th in the FBS in passing yards per game. Powell’s top targets have been a committee of experienced pass-catchers. Their leading receiver entering this weekend is Tanner Knue, whose 12 catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns have led the way in each category in the receiver room. Not to be outdone, native Arizonan Darius Lassiter has also made an impact early on as a big-play threat, with eight receptions for 91 yards.

While the ground game has yet to really get going in Ypsilanti, Samson Evans is the clear bell cow of the backfield and is not easy to bring down at 6-foot tall and 218 pounds. The transfer from Iowa will see a hefty share of the workload against ASU and Jaylon Jackson’s use as a passing down back can’t be glossed over. Neither can the Eagles’ impressive 46% 3rd down conversion rate on offense.

On defense, Eastern Michigan is coming off an embarrassing performance against a Billy Napier-less Louisiana squad who hung 49 points on them and 361 yards of total offense. Most of the damage done to the Eagles’ defense was through the air and with the team intercepting just one ball in two games, the secondary is a glaring weakness. However, they showed promise in the run game, by limiting Louisiana to just 41 yards on the ground in the loss.

A silver-lining is that the Eagles are yet to allow a first-quarter point this season.

Sun Devils looking for a bounce back

On the other sideline, Arizona State is coming off a disappointing performance in Stillwater, highlighted by the inability to convert on third-down and stand toe-to-toe with the Cowboys’ offense. While the Sun Devils compiled 354 yards of total offense, they could not translate it into points as they scored just 17 points on one of the nation’s best defenses. Oklahoma State capitalized on these mistakes and fed off their home crowd to hand ASU their first loss of the season.

Coming back home is already a step in the winning direction for this week. Emory Jones has been impressive in his first two games as a Sun Devil both on the ground and through the air and after going up against his first big test, should benefit from a defense that isn’t on the level of a College Football Playoff contender. Regardless of the level of defenses he’s seen, X Valladay has put together back-to-back 100+ rushing yards to start his Sun Devil career and there’s no reason to believe he can’t make it three straight against Eastern Michigan.

Among little positives in Stillwater was the step forward taken by the passing game. Long seen as untapped potential, Elijah Badger made quite the early-season impression with six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma State, signifying a possible clear-cut top target on the offense.

Giovanni Sanders breaking out for a couple of big plays was also promising and if a deep tight end group can show some ability to contribute, ASU’s offense might be more well-rounded than originally thought.

With the defense still coming along, it will be key for Arizona State to emulate their attack against Northern Arizona from week one. In their destruction of the Lumberjacks, the Sun Devils rode X Valladay to victory on offense and that should be their approach for a similar result against the Eagles. While Elijah Badger and Giovanni Sanders had breakout performances in Stillwater, look for them to serve as compliments to a 35-plus carry-gameplan for Herm Edwards.