Arizona State is an enigma to me. They have up-and-down weeks like the rest of the conference, but their ups and downs are extreme and varied. It is hard to figure out this team. But I had help.
Josiah Destin and Maxwell Madden from House of Sparky double-team my questions down here. And if you wanna read my answers, they have a wonderful post on their site here.
1. Before last week’s game, ASU’s defense looked completely different than the defense of last year. How have Phil Bennett and Todd Graham changed that unit? And what makes them so susceptible to the run?
Destin: If you ask any defender on that team about Bennett, he’d say the guy is the reason why this defense looked like a Pac-12 championship contending force for two straight games. The issue is that there is only one reliable unit on the defense: the linebackers. When the defensive line collapses, the secondary starts to miss tackles and that’s how teams get so many rushing yards.
Madden: It’s still kind of a mystery, both how they turned everything around so quickly and whether or not it’s gonna stick. The cornerbacks were a key component of the transition to an above average defense, as both first year starters Kobe Williams and Chase Lucas were outstanding. Josiah is spot on with the linebackers being the most consistent unit, though.
2. Manny Wilkins is a tough SOB who can run the offense. Are fans happy with him at QB or do they want to see Blake Barnett out there?
Destin: Indeed, he is. Fans are still skeptical of Wilkins’s play, but have definitely gained loads of respect for him. After Barnett threw a pick-six against USC, fans are pointing fingers at injured Brady White.
Madden: Any fans who are still pointing fingers at Manny Wilkins look beyond foolish. His efficiency and ability to move the offense down the field while negating turnovers is what has kept ASU in a lot of games this year.
3. Arizona State lost one of my favorite PAC-12 players of all time in Zane Gonzalez. How is the kicking game going without him and should CU be prepared for any long bombs?
Destin: He made that 59-yard field goal last season against the Buffaloes, but freshman Brandon Ruiz, who de-committed for Alabama, has made from 50-plus twice and have made a 78-yard field goal at a (very windy) practice.
Madden: The kicking game is in good hands in Ruiz. There may even be higher expectations because of both Gonzalez’s legacy and Ruiz’s clear potential. The coaching staff has demonstrated the utmost faith in him and that should continue down the stretch.
4. Who is the player to watch on offense? Defense?
Destin: Watch for Demario Richard to have subtle, but big gains. He’s been the lead rusher on the team the past two weeks and averaged nearly five yards per carry in those two games. Defensively, check out Kobe Williams and Chase Lucas (starting corners). Both had their worst games of the season last week against an incredibly skilled set of USC wide receivers. Their play this week is what determines an ASU win or not.
Madden: N’Keal Harry demonstrates week in and week out that his days in college football are numbered. He’s a tremendous, game-changing receiver who presents a nightmare matchup for any defense in the conference. Defensively, Renell Wren has been a force on the defense line while replacing Koron Crump. He’s also a huge mismatch.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
Destin: ASU takes it, 27-21.
Madden: ASU 33-20