Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Manny Wilkins has been at ASU since Frank Kush (RIP) was coaching. He’s putting up very good numbers this season. How has his play been overall? How about the pass protection?
Brady Vernon: Manny Wilkins has been very good this season in my opinion. Have there been throws he’s left on the field? Of course, but no one is perfect. Wilkins has had a lot on his shoulders the last couple of weeks due to the lack of a run game. The pass protection has been better than in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s been good or great. The sacks didn’t start coming in until the SDSU game, but there’s been plenty of pressures. ASU also tries to neutralize pressure with a lot of screen and swing passes.
UWDP: N’Keal Harry has once again gotten off to a great start for the Sun Devils. Washington has had some trouble with big receiving targets the past two seasons. If UW opts to try to take Harry out of ASU’s gameplan, who are some other receivers that can hurt the Huskies?
Brady: The other primary option for Wilkins besides Harry is Kyle Williams who operates mostly out of the slot. Mostly the other outside wide receiver opposite of Harry has been a constant rotation, but Frank Darby, the guy who got drilled on that targeting call, has become the other starter.
Darby is a guy that is a great deep threat because of his speed and ability to adjust to the ball when it’s in the air. JUCO transfer Brandon Aiyuk should have a role as well. They like to get him on space, especially in the screen game.
UWDP: No more Kalen Ballage or Demario Richard. Eno Benjamin is the go-to running back now. Describe his running style. Who else can chip in from the RB position? How has the offensive line performed in the running game?
Brady: Benjamin is better when out in space. He does run with power, but there’s better results when he has open field. He’s also very patient. You see both of those a lot when he catches swing passes and makes a guy or two miss. Another JUCO transfer in Isaiah Floyd has been the primary guy behind them, but hasn’t seen a ton of in-game action. Floyd had a very good fall camp showcasing his speed and vision thus earning him the backup job. A.J. Carter and Trelon Smith should see snaps too, but they are more of a question mark due to lack of experience.
UWDP: The ASU defense ranks in the middle of the conference in most defensive categories. How has the unit performed as a whole? Has there been a lot of blitzing? Who are some players to watch on Saturday night?
Brady: The unit performed very well the first two weeks, and struggled last week in their first road game. The run defense shocked people the first few weeks, but there were gap assignment and alignment issues last week against SDSU. There has been a lot of blitzing due to the athletic types they use especially at the linebacker position. Players to watch would be defensive tackle Renell Wren, who defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales has raved about all offseason.
And Wren is proving him right with his play. Freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson, and the cornerback duo of Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams are also difference makers.
UWDP: What are the thoughts on coach Herm Edwards so far from a fanbase perspective?
Brady: The fans I think are still in wait-and-see mode. The Michigan State win certainly helped people jump on the train. But... some jumped off just as quickly after the SDSU loss. The fact that the fourth-and-1 decision seemed to change the course of that game from a momentum standpoint certainly didn’t help. Say if the game was just close and a ball rolled SDSU’s way people might have more faith. The performance in this game in Seattle might swing the meter one way or the other because even if ASU can keep it close, more people might believe in the progress he’s trying to make.
UWDP: The Sun Devils have been a thorn in the side of Washington football for years. What is your prediction for this game?
Brady: Washington wins 28-10. I don’t think the Sun Devils get the running game going this week either. And the Huskies’ have the secondary to give Wilkins and company fits. The young defense I believe will struggle in their first conference road game, but the fact it’s in Seattle against a top 10 foe makes the case even more extreme.
Thanks Brady. Be sure to check out House of Sparky for more on the game from the Arizona State perspective.