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Opponent Offense Preview: Arizona State

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Injuries galore, but they still have a few playmakers who can burn the Huskies.

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Sun Devils started the season hot at 5-1 but have dropped four in a row since their narrow victory over UCLA. They’ve been hit hard with injuries, and at times have played with their fourth-string QB. All of that is a recipe for a tough year.

First, it was QB Manny Wilkins. He won the job in preseason, got hurt against USC, then returned last week in a loss vs. Utah. Taking over in the meantime was Brady White, who was lost for the season in the next game after Wilkins went down. Dual-threat Bryce Perkins was lost for the season during fall camp.

The Basics

The Sun Devils lost offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to the head coaching job at Memphis and brought in Chip Lindsey to run the offense. You may recall Chip Lindsey as the former OC at Southern Mississippi, who UW played in the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl. At Southern Miss he put together some high-scoring offenses and developed a reputation as a top QB coach.

His offenses like to spread the ball around and get it out quickly. He molds offenses to his QB’s strengths and is hugely popular among his current and former players. One big change he brought from last year’s offense is running the ball more. Last year, ASU passed 52% of the time, while this year they’ve only thrown only 47% of the time. Five percent isn’t a huge swing, but one can see that Lindsey is trying to play to the offense’s strengths: running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard. Another interpretation: with so many QB injuries and such uncertainty at the position, they’ve been forced to run more. Let’s take a closer look.

Quarterback

Manny Wilkins: 1,730 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 60.6% completion, 7.83 yards/attempt

Wilkins is a 6’3” 190-pound sophomore QB. He has struggled with injuries, no doubt hurting his consistency. Interestingly enough, Arizona State only throws for about 20 more yards per game than Washington, but they’ve attempted 61 more passes on the season, and thrown only 11 TDs - barely one per game. Wilkins also doesn’t take great care of the ball, throwing at least one pick in 6 of 7 games he’s started this year. He currently ranks sixth in the conference in passing efficiency.

He isn’t a true dual threat and will look to pass first, but he can definitely move a bit. In ASU’s 4-0 start, he had 56 rushes for 263 yards and 4 TDs. His season rushing totals, however, look pretty bad as 5 sacks against Colorado, and 11 (eleven!) against Utah count against his rushing totals. That said, Wilkins admitted after the Utah game a number of sacks were his fault because he held onto the ball for too long.

Running Backs

Kalen Ballage: 113 carries, 514 yard, 13 TDs

Demario Richard: 140 carries, 534, 3 TDs

These are perhaps Arizona State’s two best playmakers, forming a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield. Ballage is a 6’3” 230-pound bruiser with surprising agility and balance, similar to Cal’s Vic Enwere. He’s a receiving threat too, having caught 30 passes so far this year. He also set an NCAA record with 8 TDs in a game against Texas Tech. He’s both powerful and quick, and will be a load to bring down.

Richard, a one-time Washington recruiting target, is more of a scatback with shiftiness, and more of a pure running back. He doesn’t catch the ball as much with only nine receptions this year, but has almost 30 more carries than Ballage. He leads the team with 534 rushing yards, but has gained only 39 in his last three games. No doubt offensive line injuries (more on that below) have had their part in this, but averaging under 4 yards per carry after averaging over 5 his first two years must be considered a disappointment. Regardless, between him and Ballage, they form a good tandem with different skill sets.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Tim White: 49 receptions, 623 yards, 1 TD

N’Keal Harry: 43 receptions, 494 yards, 4 TDs

Jalen Harvey: 20 receptions, 322 yards

Frederick Gammage: 13 receptions, 215 yards, 1 TD

Kody Kohl (TE): 7 receptions, 93 yards, 2 TDs

Tim White is the star here, as he leads the team in receptions and yards, but is being caught from behind by true freshman phenom N’Keal Harry. White is usually the first option and will often help move the chains when they need a reception. His 4.9 receptions per game ranks just outside the top 50 nationally.

N’Keal Harry has been an absolute monster for Arizona State this year, and had his best game of the season last week against Utah, in which he: caught 8 passes for 114 yards (long of 27), rushed once for 31 yards and a touchdown (seriously, watch the video), and threw a 46-yard pass. He’s big at 6’4”, strong, can catch, has moves, and is just everything you want in a true, outside, #1 WR. He seems to be adjusting to Pac-12 ball as the season goes on, and big #1 will need to be accounted for on every play.

Jalen Harvey doesn’t have a touchdown this year, but is a big option at 6’1” and is having a decent season. Arizona State doesn’t utilize the tight end much, but senior Kody Kohl has made the most of his 7 catches with 2 TDs.

Offensive Line

This is where things get dicey for ASU. As Husky fans know, it’s very hard to win and get good QB play with a sub-par offensive line. Most of that is due to injuries for the Devils. We all know Utah got 11 sacks against ASU last week, and even without those, ASU would still rank near 100th nationally for sacks given up. Manny Wilkins gets sacked on almost 9% of his dropbacks, which is a lot. Tackles for loss aren’t great either, as they give nearly 8 per game. They’re less than average running the ball at 144 yards per game, but perhaps the 3.52 yards per rush on the season is a better indicator of the poor OL play. The group was beaten pretty badly last week and could only muster 41 yards rushing, while giving up 22 tackles for loss.

The groups best player is LT Evan Goodman, who is an 11-game returning starter at tackle, and the group’s only returner from last year. He’s very good, but regardless, this beat-up unit has been struggling this season.

Final Thoughts

This shouldn’t be a challenge for the Husky defense. The entire Sun Devil team is fading fast, and despite ten straight wins over UW, they won’t stand a chance in Husky Stadium. Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage are certified dudes who can and likely will make plays. I’m a bit worried about Ballage running up the gut without Azeem Victor to meet him. N’Keal Harry is also the real deal and will require constant attention from the secondary, likely opening things up a bit for Tim White.

But what about Washington’s pass rush, which has stalled since the injury to Joe Mathis? Wilkins is no Sam Darnold, but if a QB has all day to throw, they will hit big passes and move the ball even at Husky Stadium. ASU’s OL has been struggling, especially recently, and they could be just what the ailing Washington rush needs. Expect Benning Potoa’e to keep seeing more action, as well as Connor O’Brien.

At the end of the day, Washington shouldn’t have too much trouble bottling up the run game and forcing Wilkins to throw. When that happens, I think it will be a long game for Arizona State. This will not be like the USC game at all. Go Dawgs.