Texas Tech vs. Arizona State is easily the most anticipated non-conference game on the schedule for the Red Raiders. We’ve been giving you our thoughts on the matchup all week, but wanted to also get some perspective from Arizona State fans. So we asked our friends over at SB Nation’s Arizona State website, House of Sparky, to give us their thoughts on the desert showdown...
Q: Arizona State’s already thin at linebacker, and they’re facing an offense that can make you pay when you blitz. How are you feeling about the Sun Devil’s defense heading into a matchup with Texas Tech?
A: Honestly the feeling around Tempe is Texas Tech is the perfect offense to expose the ASU defense. The Sun Devils did not fare well against Air Raid teams last season, most notably Cal and Washington State. The Sun Devil secondary gave up nearly 400 yards through the air last week against an FCS opponent while Patrick Mahomes threw for over 400 yards in the first half in Tech's season opener.
ASU's best linebacker, Christian Sam, did practice Tuesday and his status is unknown for Saturday just like last year's starter Salamo Fiso, who was suspended for the opener. I, as well as most of Sun Devil nation, am expecting Texas Tech to be able to score on Saturday night.
Q: It took a while for the Sun Devil offense to get going against Northern Arizona. First game jitters, or emblematic of a bigger problem?
A: I think a little bit of both. Four new offensive linemen with a new quarterback definitely does not help and I also don't think Chip Lindsey wanted to show all of his cards in the first game of the season. ASU scored on their first possession on seven straight runs and then tried to work on some things in the passing game the rest of the first half.
That being said, Wilkins did not do a great job in the vertical passing game and did not look comfortable staying in the pocket. He led ASU in rushing and most of his yards came on scrambles when instead of checking the ball down or going through progressions he used his athleticism and ran. That may work against NAU, but the Red Raider defense might make him pay.
Q: The word on the street is that there was a little bit of a quarterback competition this spring/fall. How was Manny Wilkins able to win the starting job, and how does he keep it?
A: There was indeed a quarterback battle between Wilkins and redshirt freshman Brady White, who is the highest rated QB to ever sign with the Sun Devils. Todd Graham announced the starter the day before the season opener even though most media knew it would be Wilkins a few week prior.
Graham said he would play the more consistent player, who makes the best decisions and who doesn't turn the football over. Graham know in this offense, with two stud running backs, his quarterback isn't going to be asked to stretch the field and throw the ball 40 times a game.
He keeps his job by not turning the ball over and managing the game. I don't think even if Wilkins struggles badly against Tech Graham would replace him during the game but the big thing with Graham has always been taking care of the football.
Q: ASU’s offensive line is in the process of being rebuilt. How do you think they fare against a Texas Tech defense that has left much to be desired in the past?
A: I think it takes time for an offensive line unit to mesh so it will be interesting to see them play against a Big 12 defense. There is experience in the new starters as Quinn Bailey (LG) played a little at right tackle last year and Stephon McCray (C) has been the backup center the last two seasons.
In order for the Sun Devils to win, they have to run the football effectively with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage and a lot of that falls on the offensive line. The unit has to play better than they did against NAU and I am not sure I see that happening.
Q: Northern Arizona was able to move the ball through the air against the Sun Devils. How worrying is that when Texas Tech comes to town?
A: The secondary is the biggest concern right now from fans and most media, especially against Tech. Long story short, ASU has not been able to get pressure rushing four in the past, so they blitz more than just about anybody in college football. This leaves their corners and safeties in a lot of one-on-one matchups and last season it cost ASU wins.
This year, Kareem Orr moves from safety (where he led the team with six INTs) to corner and the Sun Devils get Armand Perry back in his place at safety after he missed the final 10 games of last season with an ankle injury. If he plays, safety Laiu Moeakiola is an X-factor for the Sun Devils. He's smart, instinctive and a leader on the ASU defense who missed the NAU game because of a nagging hamstring injury.
Q: Okay, let’s have some fun now. Would you rather have us and another school join the Pac-16 or have Arizona and Arizona State head over to the Big 12?
A: I think if you ask Todd Graham, he would love to join the Big 12. Graham and his staff love recruiting Texas and Louisiana and Graham himself is a former Texas HS coach. Although I may be biased, I also view the Pac-12 as a deeper conference top to bottom so I would say if I had to choose, I would take Arizona and ASU to the Big 12.
Q: Here’s some post-grunge music talk: Staind or Creed?
A: I would go with Staind but I am not totally comfortable with either.
Q: Where should those traveling down to Tempe head for a pregame meal or a drink?
A: Mill Ave, which is walking distance from the stadium, is the go-to place in the Tempe bar scene. It's our version of Austin's Sixth Street (obviously not as well known or prestigious). It's got a nice mixture of dance bars, country bars, pool halls and more laid back places to get a beer (or two) and if Tech wins the fans can enjoy the postgame scene there because it gets very packed after Sun Devil games.
As for food, the Chuck Box is a really good burger place that you can walk to from the stadium (cash only though). The Yard is a fun restaurant/bar that has a few locations around town but I would say Mill Ave is the place to be. Most Tech fans will probably be staying close to Sun Devil Stadium anyway and there are plenty of food and drink options there.
Q: One final question: What are your final predictions for this game?
A: Even before the performance against NAU, I thought Tech would win this game. I just think the Red Raiders do everything on offense a bit better than ASU right now and clearly they have the better quarterback. I say it will be close at halftime with the Red Raiders pulling away in the fourth quarter and winning 38-24.