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Behind Enemy Lines: Arizona State

Learn about the Sun Devils before conference play kicks off

Arizona State v Bigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

The Colorado Buffaloes face the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday night. If you’ve been paying attention to CU, you’ll know that a high-scoring is DEFINITELY NOT in the cards. We talked to Jack Johnson, from our friendly neighborhood ASU blog The House of Sparky, to find out more about the Sun Devils:

Arizona State has had a tumultuous last two years. Because the Buffs and the Sun Devils ended up not playing last year, could you catch CU fans up on the happenings of the ASU program in the last two years?

Not a whole lot and entirely too much, at the same time. Tumultuous is a good word to describe the last two years for Arizona State. Last year, if anything, was frustrating. The team was in a transitional year but still projected well in the grand scheme of what should have been a wide open Pac-12. In the end, a 70-7 victory over their arch rival Arizona served as more of a cleansing mouthwash for what was otherwise a bitter season. Starts, stops, and COVID issues ruled the program in 2020. The collapse in Week 1 against USC stun, and the inability to string games together due to external circumstances forcing internal issues meant the team never truly found a rhythm on offense. In the end, a 2-2 record was fine, but it could have been a lot better if the Sun Devils had been able to play a few more games in consecutive fashion

The lack of a full season to break in the new pieces in 2020 has shown in 2021. The receiving core is not yet on the same page with quarterback Jayden Daniels. The leading receiver isn’t even a receiver, it’s running back Rachaad White with 15 receptions for 117 yards. Obviously, the allegations swarming around the program are hanging like a dark cloud, but the only way to quiet the noise is to play confidently on the field. So far through three weeks, that has yet to happen, as evidenced by the debacle that was 16 penalties for over 100 yards last week against BYU.

What Colorado fans should expect is a supremely talented team going through growing pains later than they would have hoped, since the growth that would have occurred last season was stunted by the pandemic.

Jayden Daniels is still the QB for the Sun Devils. How has he fared so far this year?

He is still the quarterback. Believe it or not, this is just now his true junior season. Last time I’ll mention the pandemic, but man did 2020 make 2019 feel like it was a decade ago. Seems like it has been years since Daniels electrified Tempe with that 408 yard, three touchdown performance in primetime against then No. 6 Oregon.

This season, it has been a slow start. He possesses a negative touchdown to interception ratio of 2 touchdowns to three picks. As I mentioned before, a lot of that has to do with the absence of a true deep threat, which I believe Daniels really needs to be successful. He has all the tools, but he really excels at the long ball, and nobody has really given him much help, yet.

There is way too much talent on this receiving roster to not have someone break through the cracks as the season winds down. Colorado is a fairly good team when it comes to defending the pass, ranking just outside the top-50. Therefore, itt might not be this week things really get going for Daniels. Here’s the caveat, this offensive line has allowed pressure on just 15.7% of his dropbacks, so good luck getting to him in the backfield.

ASU has been one of the most penalized teams in the country so far this year. What is causing the rash of penalties?

Yeesh, it has been ugly. So far this season, only three teams have been penalized more than the Sun Devils. I touched on this in the first answer, but it is worth repeating. 16 penalties for 121 yards against BYU was inexcusable. During a crucial sequence late in the game, the Sun Devils committed four false starts on the same drive. They came in pairs, with back-to-back false starts on two separate occasions. Provo has proven to be a very tough place to play, but imagine Nick Saban’s reaction to such a situation. They would have enough vitriol to bottle it and sell to the masses.

In total, 35 penalties have been called through three games against Arizona State. That’s nearly an average of 12 per game. It’s hard to explain, the coaching staff does not seem to have any answers either, as Herm Edwards was nothing short of perplexed during the postgame last week.

This is a very experienced offensive line, they should clean things up. Defensively, I think you’re seeing some units that are struggling due to the lack of presence from their regular position coaches after self-imposed suspensions. Either way, the Sun Devils can’t go forward like this, and I imagine anything short of five penalties in this Colorado game will be viewed as a disappointment.

The Sun Devils have a lot of new faces on offense. Who should the Buffs key on?

If you’re familiar with the running back run led by White and DeaMonte Trayanum, then allow me to introduce Daniyel Ngata. He was actually the higher rated recruit of the three, but was sidelined during preseason camp last year due to a hamstring injury.

Now healthy, he has been a revelation in Trayanum’s absence. Expect much more from Ngata against the Buffaloes.

The defense still has Merlin Robertson in the middle. Who are the other defensive players that CU fans should key on?

Robertson has actually been overshadowed a little this season by Darien Butler, who has 20 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions. On the back end, this secondary should be getting a lot more attention from the media, and fear from their opponents. It is an experienced group, led by stalwarts Jack Jones, Chase Lucas, and Evan Fields. Since 2018, this unit has allowed only five pass plays of over 50 yards, with none coming this year.

It’s a very good unit as a whole, the defensive team has forced a three-and-out on 14 of their opponents 33 drives this season. Colorado struggles on offense, so I expect that percentage to grow this weekend.

We both know CU wins this game. Does CU score double digits?

ASU will win, as long as they don’t beat themselves. Colorado appears to have no reliable pieces on offense, and the Sun Devils most confident group is their defense.

Will the Buffaloes score double digits? Well, at some point they will, I think they’ll get somewhere around 13 this weekend. The good ole two field goals and a touchdown game. The only issue is, Arizona State truly believes they are Pac-12 contenders, and want to make a statement. For all intents and purposes, the Sun Devils will make that statement on Saturday night.