Continuing our game-by-game preview of the 2016 Oregon Ducks football schedule, ATQ now sets our sites on an October-29 clash in Eugene against the Sun Devils of Arizona State University.
Another Sun Devil season, another rollercoaster ride for fans and coaches alike. Every season, they believe this might be their year at Arizona State. Do they finally put it all together and go on an incredible run? Armed to the teeth with notable defenses in the past, the team as a whole always repeatedly crumbled at critical times.
Quarterback Mike Bercovici left a great deal of big plays and talent on the field when his college career concluded. Close circles in Tempe, Arizona long waited for Bercovici to become more consistent with the talent he possessed. Yet, he left much to be desired finishing 2015 with 3,860 passing yards alongside 36 total touchdowns (six rushing) and nine interceptions.
If their was any room for excitement from the Devil worshippers, it would have to be the ASU rushing game. Last season saw the Sun Devils produce three backs that averaged over 5.1 yards per carry. Not to mention, Demario Richard touched 1,098 yards on just 209 carries, including seven jaunts to the end zone.
In the end, ASU was simply too inconsistent. They fell to fourth place in the Pac-12 South with a disappointing 4-5 record, resting them not so comfortably at 6-7 for the season. The offense averaged a solid 34.6 points per game, but the defense unfortunately allowed 33.4 PPG which is a losing recipe.
The Arizona State secondary allowed the most passing yards for any FBS school last season. If they can not sure up this secondary, ASU may be bowled over once again in 2016, but they may not have the great fortune of winning six games like last year.
ASU’s front seven is solid, as per usual. It could be down right special if head coach Todd Graham can find the right mix. Decisions will be much easier to make this season with standouts like linebacker Salamo Fiso and defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood.
NEW COWBOY IN TOWN:
Similar to Ducks’ fan cries for a starting quarterback, the ASU faithful is perplexed with a far worse dilemma at the signal caller position. Manny Wilkins (sophomore) and freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins have been competing all spring for the lead role. The good news is they have some talent, the bad news is nobody wants to separate themselves from the pack. This will be a problem all season for the Sun Devils.
The leading passer on ASU from the 2015 season is punter Matt Haack. He completed a 27-yard screamer last season on his lone pass attempt. All jokes aside, special teams and the punter position in general will be a crucial position for Arizona State in 2016 if they wish to contend. Their offense is full of three-and-outs and special teams will be at a premium.
WHEN ASU IS ON DEFENSE:
Honorable mention for the Pac-12 all-conference team in 2015, Fiso will be the disruptive force of the second tier. Last season, he recorded a team-leading 99 tackles alongside 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Although undersized for a defensive tackle, the 6-foot, 1-inch Smallwood is from the Aaron Donald school of less is more. Last season, the slight DT recorded 43 tackles and two sacks on his way to honorable mention honors, as well.
Smallwood will be vying to make room for linebacker Christian Sam who finished second on the team in tackles last season with 98.
As mentioned before, the ASU coaching staff is far less worried about their front seven, as opposed to their horrendous secondary. This is why they gobbled up defensive back Kareem Orr (sophomore). The Chattanooga, Tennessee native is in Tempe to sure up the secondary. Last season, he notched 38 tackles including six interceptions.
The Sun Devils are loaded with players that fit the “linebacker” mold at different positions on the defense. DT Tashon Smallwood and free safety Laiu Moeakiola fit that criteria to perfection. The similarly framed 6-foot, 1-inch defensive back registered 51 tackles and two sacks last season. He needs to stay healthy for ASU’s secondary to have a chance of surviving the Pac-12 this season.
JoJo Wicker is the final piece of the star puzzle entering the season for the defense. Just like every other ASU defender, he is fairly undersized compared to other players at his position in college football. The 6-foot, 3-inch wide body will help solidify the run stopping, while helping the defensive pressure from the ASU edges.
WHO TO WATCH:
Junior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage will bring the excitement to the ASU backfield this season. Last year, the combo totaled over 2,000 combined yards alongside 14 overall touchdowns. This season, with a new quarterback under center, the running game at ASU has never been more important.
If the Ducks want to completely stifle the Sun Devils and be free from “Fear The Fork,” then Oregon will need to shut down the running game. ASU will pose very little threat through the air this season, at least early on, and their receivers are inexperienced. However, the duel RB combination will be a legitimate force on the west coast.
The ASU front seven is solid and will keep the game close for the first three quarters. Nevertheless, the Ducks will take advantage of garbage time for a huge fourth quarter against a tired and depleted Sun Devil secondary to secure a solid 35-10 win in Eugene on October 29 from Autzen Stadium.