Arizona State - Notes and Thoughts On Devils Offense

Arizona State - Notes and Thoughts On Devils Offense

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Arizona State - Notes and Thoughts On Devils Offense

Herm Edwards and the Arizona State Sun Devils stand in the way of a 2-0 start for Michigan State. There isn’t anything easy about this challenge for the Spartans.

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It’s still a bit of a head-scratcher.

Herm Edwards hadn’t coached a football team in a game of any kind in something like 38 years.

But Arizona State chose Edwards to lead the Sun Devil football program following the disappointing Todd Graham Era.

There hasn’t ever been any doubt about the passion packed into Herm Edwards.

I once was fortunate enough to hear him speak to my colleagues and me when I worked at a place that broadcasts lots of sports shows and games and things on television.

He spoke to us for an hour straight, without a note in front of him, and was mesmerizing and inspirational in ways that are hard to put into words.

At one point of his address – the subject was “leadership” – he became emotional and had to wipe tears from his face as he spoke to us with his voice cracking.

He was talking about growing up and being expected by his father to sweep the front stoop of the apartment building in which he was raised every day.

I shook Edwards’s hand after that speech and it felt like I was shaking hands with a guy who had just returned home after serving in the European Theater of World War II.

The kids who play for him now at Arizona State are fortunate in the way they will benefit greatly from being around a man who has so much authentic conviction and passion.

But………..can he coach college football after sitting in a studio in Bristol, CT for the last umpteen years?

A lot of things have changed since he roamed a sideline or led a practice or adjusted his team’s approach in the middle of being beaten in the trenches by an opponent with visions of reaching the College Football Playoff.

That last part – the part about adjusting to being beaten in the trenches by a team fighting for a College Football Playoff berth – he’s never done that.

This coming Saturday night in what will be his first true test as a college football coach, Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils will have their hands full when they take on a team that has goals that are far greater than Arizona State’s in 2018.

Something that Edwards and the Devils have that should give them confidence is a quarterback who is better than most people give him credit for being and a tandem of receivers who are, collectively, as good as any tandem in the Pac 12.

In Saturday night’s season opener against UTSA, Arizona State redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins went 16 for 24 with 237 yards and four touchdowns.

But if we’re going to take a good look at what the Spartan defense is going up against in Tempe this Saturday night, it’s more telling to look at what Wilkins did last year.

He completed 63% of his passes (260 out of 410) for 3,270 yards.

He ended the season with 20 touchdowns against 8 interceptions.

A big, bright, flashing number on Wilkins’s 2017 stat sheet is the number of times he was sacked.

40.

The combination of a line that isn’t the most protective and Wilkins being not quite as mobile and elusive than even Jordan Love of Utah State (although, Wilkins is mobile) gives Michigan State a hole to try and wedge into in the Spartans’ attempt to slow down a guy who had about 500 more overall yards through the air than Brian Lewerke but similar touchdown-to-interception numbers – Lewerke had 2,793 yards with 20 touchdowns against 7 interceptions last season.

And to put that sack total that hindered Wilkins in 2017 into more perspective, Lewerke was sacked 18 times last season.

Wilkins has weapons to work with.

At one wide receiver, Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry goes 6’4″, 213 pounds – he’s comparable to Felton Davis in terms of size, reach, and range.

Harry’s numbers from 2017 are impressive:

82 receptions for 1,142 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Harry has a buddy named Kyle Williams who makes life tough for opposing defenses.

Williams isn’t as rangy and as tall as Harry – Williams goes 5’11” and 182 pounds.

But last season Williams hauled in 66 catches for 763 yards and 7 touchdowns.

These guys are a dangerous duo.

However, the approach and overall style of the Arizona State offensive scheme is far different than what Utah State deployed on Friday night in East Lansing.

Michigan State has the potential to have a more efficient night on defense against a team with more collective talent than the Aggies brought to East Lansing since the pace and overall style is more consistent with what the Spartans are accustomed to shutting down.

Speaking of shutting down – what about the Devils’ rushing attack?

As that amount of sacks (40) suggests, the Arizona State offensive line was not an area of strength for the Devils in 2017 and their one game against UTSA isn’t a fair barometer.

Four starters do return from last season’s line – and the arrival of a transfer from Stanford, Casey Tucker, may help the grade point average for the unit.

Runners from last year’s squad – Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage – aren’t around this year.

Last season’s rushing game produced 175 yards a game – and Richard ended the season with 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Ballage had 669 yards and six scores.

Eno Benjamin is the man to fill the hole left by these two and the sophomore did run wild against UTSA in Week 1 – he finished the Devils’ opener with 131 yards on 16 carries and a score.

In a weird way, this is a better matchup for Michigan State’s defense when compared to the Utah State challenge due to what will, presumably, be a more traditional offensive scheme that may not dunk and dink and up-tempo the Spartans quite as much as Jordan Love and the Aggies did in East Lansing.

The Arizona State ground game has the same sort of shot at success against Michigan State as I would have had in corralling an Arizona State lass on a road trip to Tempe in 1990.

There is reason to be optimistic about the Michigan State defense showing Spartan fans and college football fans alike that it still is the Michigan State defense this coming Saturday night.

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