In honor of the tines on Sparky’s pitchfork, our podcast game preview segment focused on three keys to each and every Sun Devil game. Heading into the 2015 season we’ll be picking up where the podcast left off in written form on our site each and every week.
This week, we cover the three key areas we’ll be looking at for the Sun Devils as they head to Houston to play in the 2015 Advocare Texas Kickoff versus Texas A&M on Saturday. A game which proves to be massive if ASU is to prove all the pre-season hype true about this team being a College Football Playoff contender.
#15 ASU vs Texas A&M (-3)
The Sun Devils headed into the off-season with the task of replacing 68 career starts between its 2014 starting tackles Jamil Douglas (first team All-Pac-12) and Tyler Sulka. The battle at left tackle would be between redshirt junior Evan Goodman (the early favorite) who backed up Douglas in 2014, and redshirt freshman Sam Jones. With Goodman missing most of spring camp due to a hamstring injury, Jones played with the starting eleven at left tackle throughout most of spring practice.
Since fall camp began however, a healthier Goodman had been sharing the first team practice repetitions with Jones at the starting left tackle spot, beginning to show the physical gifts that make him one of, if not the best NFL prospect among the offensive linemen in terms of potential. With Jones suffering a minor knee injury late August, the job seems to be Goodman’s for now.
On the right side of the line, redshirt senior Billy McGehee has grown steadily into his starting job since the early days of spring camp. Seen as a completely different body type than his predecessor at 6-foot-6, 314 pounds, McGehee has the size you look for in a run blocking right tackle.
The task of these two first-time starters is to protect quarterback senior Mike Bercovici from the likes of “the best (pass rusher) in the country that I’ve seen on film,” according to head coach Todd Graham. That man of course is Aggies defensive end Myles Garret who set the conference record in sacks by a freshman with 11.5.
Compared to a young Von Miller, with a combination of elite quickness for a defensive linemen and already advanced set of pass rush moves, Garret might already be the best pass rushing NFL prospect in college football going into 2015. While he was still able to be out-muscled by stronger offensive lineman, he’ll only get stronger as he moves out of his teenage years.
In terms of pass rushing talent for new defensive coordinator John Chavis, he also has the likes of junior defensive end Daeshon Hall (5.5 sacks in ’14) and senior Julien Obioha (formerly an end moving inside). Chavis’ defenses in the past have been built around having as much speed as possible on the field while getting as many pass rushers with long arms along his defensive line.
This may be one of the best pass rushing groups the Sun Devils will face all year, and it’s paramount the offensive line improves upon a standard down sack rate that ranked 115th in the nation last season (according to Football Outsiders). In order to do so, they’ll have to scheme differently than they did against Utah at Sun Devil Stadium last season when defensive end Hunter Dimick was left free early and often to cause havoc throughout the contest.
Second Tine of the Game: No Fly Zone Versus the Air Raid Passing Attack
Along with those pass rushing defensive ends, the Aggies also posses some of the best wide receivers in the SEC Conference who will once again be catching passes from sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen in 2015. Allen who took over as the starter half-way through last season threw 16 touchdown passes including four in the Liberty Bowl shootout against West Virginia.
As deep as they are talented, Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, and five-star Saguaro High prep Christian Kirk, give Allen quite a few weapons by air. What’s more impressive as that most of them were playing their first year in the SEC and still put up impressive numbers, part ability and size, but also due to Kevin Sumlin’s adaptation of the Air Raid scheme. Whether it’s big bodied receivers on the outside, or quick slot receivers this passing offense provides threats all over the field.
ASU brings back three senior returning starters but needs to replace their play-making safety Damarious Randall at the field safety position. This group will see a ton of screens both out to the flats and to slot receivers like Kirk. They’ll also see the classic three and four vertical routes being run by the receivers down field, so how and when the most aggressive blizting defense in the country last year chooses to send more than four rushers will be critical.
You’d have to assume Todd Graham will go after the Aggies sophomore quarterback early to get him uncomfortable in the pocket. If that’s the case its critical that ASU defenders be able to wrap up and tackle in the open field without much help. You can also bet the farm that Sumlin will try to isolate senior safety Jordan Simone in pass coverage against the more athletic Aggies receivers.
Remember, this is basically the same ASU defense give or take a few parts, that allowed over 600 yards of offense to Washington State at Sun Devil Stadium last year.
Third Tine of the Game: Run the Ball to Control Momentum
Most of the stats you look at show that ASU wasn’t great at running the football last season (70th in Rushing S&P+). However, they added more bulk at right tackle while by all accounts, the interior of this offensive line has improved dramatically after playing together through the last year.
If the potential two-headed sophomore monster of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage can best the 121 yards on the ground this team averaged in the final three games of the season, it would go a long way to help two fold. Controlling the clock would both slow down the Aggies pass rushers while keeping the ball away from Sumlin’s offense. This match-up will be the classic game of the Aggies speed on defense versus the Sun Devils power run game on offense.
Comments, questions, or additional points . . . leave us a comment or tweet to us @ASUDevilsDen.