Three Tines to Victory is back for ASU’s first road game of the year, in San Antonio, Texas, where they will take on the UTSA Roadrunners. The Sun Devils are heavy favorites in this game, with footballstudyhall.com giving them an 81% chance to win, and a projected margin of victory of 15. With that being the case, this week’s Three Tines will look more like the NAU edition, with three things ASU needs to do for fans to feel optimistic about the team moving forward, rather than three things ASU has to do to win.
Before we get to the Three Tines, I want to quickly revisit last week’s three tines, and look at what I got wrong, and what I got right.
Last week’s first tine was Havoc. What I got wrong was that ASU blitzed much less than I projected they would. However, the defense did perform better in the second half, when they did blitz more often.
Second was to Limit Catastrophic Breakdowns in the Secondary. I didn’t think ASU would win if they gave up more than 10 yards per pass attempt. They proved me wrong. I was right in that it would be an important factor in the game, however.
Last was Ball Control. I think I got this mostly right. ASU rushed for over 300 yards, which was key to winning the game. However, most of those yards came after halftime, and ASU mostly passed to set up the run. I thought it would be the other way around.
Now let’s get to this week’s Three Tines:
First Tine to Victory: Don’t Give Up Big Plays in the Passing Game
Does this sound familiar? It should. This is the third week in a row it has found its way into this list, in some form. It’s ASU’s biggest weakness at this point, and they will need to improve if they are to build on the Texas Tech victory, and have a successful season.
UTSA should provide an opportunity for the Sun Devil secondary to get right. Although the Roadrunners’ passing game has been efficient (9.4 yds/att), they have not been explosive, as their IsoPPP (explosiveness) ranks 101st in the country. If they limit mental mistakes, they should be able to build some confidence, something they’ll need heading into the following week’s game against Cal, another Air Raid team.
Second Tine to Victory: Get Pressure on the Quarterback Without Blitzing
Going into the season, there was a lot of optimism that JoJo Wicker would develop into an elite pass rusher, enabling the Sun Devils to generate pressure without having to blitz as often as last season. To this point, that hasn’t materialized. Wicker has no sacks and no tackles-for-loss, which is surprising, considering that ASU’s first two opponents were pass-happy teams who provided a lot of opportunities for sacks. There is some reason for optimism, though. In the Texas Tech game, both Wicker and Koron Crump frequently beat their man. However, Patrick Mahomes got rid of the ball so quickly that they were rarely able to even get hits on him. None of ASU’s remaining opponents will be able to replicate Mahomes’ ability, or even come close, so I expect Wicker’s luck to change soon. Additionally, UTSA has given up eight sacks in its first two games against weak competition, making it likely that this is the week it happens. If the ASU defensive line gets a few sacks, it would be a great sign moving forward, and would provide assistance to the struggling secondary.
Third Tine to Victory: Get Kalen Ballage More Touches
Everyone’s heard about Ballage’s stat line from last week: 8 touchdowns on 15 touches. On the season, he is averaging 8.4 yds/carry, and a ridiculous 17.9 highlight yds/carry (definition can be found here). At the same time, Demario Richard is averaging 3.8 yds/carry, and has more than twice as many carries as Ballage. While Demario’s ability to get tough yards and pound away at the opponent’s defense is valuable, at some point the Sun Devils are leaving too many yards ou
t on the field by distributing the ball as they currently are. To hearken back to my game theory piece several months ago, ASU would increase its total yds/carry by splitting carries more evenly. As Ballage gets more carries, his yds/carry will decrease, as defenses begin to key on him more. Conversely, as Richard gets fewer carries, his yds/carry will increase. The point at which their individual yds/carry are equal is the point where ASU is maximizing its total yds/carry. Additionally, the passing game would benefit from throwing to Ballage more often, as his yds/target are the second highest on the team, at 11.5.
While a Sun Devil victory is likely even if the team struggles in these areas, if they can accomplish these three things, it will give them confidence heading into conference play, and maybe even get a certain player some serious Heisman attention.