1. The Setting
Good Guys: Texas Tech Red Raiders (1-0, 0-0)
Bad Guys: Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0, 0-0)
When: Saturday, September 10th at 9:00 pm
Where: Sun Devil Stadium; Tempe, Arizona
TV/Stream: FS1 (FOX Sports Go)
Radio/Stream: 97.3 FM | Affiliates | TuneIn App
2. Uniform Tracker
|Stephen F. Austin||W, 69-17|
3. The Big Storyline
It’s time to exorcise some demons.
Get it, because Arizona State’s mascot are the Sun Devils and I’m wanting to exorcise a demon . . . anyway, that demon being the inability to score on the road last year. Maybe that’s a bit harsh. Texas Tech did score, but just about every metric was down from being at home and being on the road.
On the road last year, the offense only averaged 6.19 points a play, but at home averaged 7.81. At home, the offense averaged 661 yards a game and on the road it was only 509. At home, Texas Tech averaged 442 yards a game and 8.9 yards per attempt. On the road, those numbers dropped to 342 yards a game and 7.4 yards per attempt. That’s a 100 yard drop. At home, the offense ran for 220 yards a game, but on the road, only averaged 167 and the yards per attempt dropped from 6.26 at home to 4.61 on the road.
And this applies to the defense as well, although some of the stats aren’t as telling. At home, the defense only allowed 6.63 yards a play, but on the road, it was 7.17. The defense was a bit wonky, but I think this is because teams were able to run roughshod over the defense, but last year, at home, the defense gave up only 251 yards on the ground and only 5.82 yards per attempt, while on the road, they allowed 315 yards a game and 6.53 yards per attempt. Things were reversed in terms of passing yards allowed, giving up 326 yards per game at home and 216 on the road. Still though, the yards per play is the key figure for me . . . and . . . the defense essentially being an open door for team that wanted to run the ball.
I am a bit buoyed by the idea that the defense should be much improved, but Arizona State is a significant step up to what SFA brought last week. A true running quarterback in Manny Watkins, and a bevy of talented running backs, led by Demario Richard.
4. One Key Stat
In just one game, Cameron Batson has nearly flipped the script. Against SFA, Batson had 4 returns for 75 yards and in 13 games last year, Batson had 81 total return yards. The reins have been lifted and now, thankfully, Batson is free to roam and electrify the crowd and provide extra yardage that Texas Tech has lacked over the course of the past two years.
5. What to Watch on Offense
If you remember, Arizona State is a multiple offense, but they have changed things a bit, hiring Chip Lindsey, who was previously at Southern Mississippi. He’s very good and just looking at the two plays here, he’ll throw some interesting things at opposing defenses.
In this first screen caption, the receivers are trips left, but they’re all bunched up tightly close to the left tackle with one receiver on the line of scrimmage and at the bottom of the screen grab. This is actually a screen pass to the top receiver and it ends up going for big yardage. The line all blocks down away from the play and the left guard is the lead blocker and he looks pretty good out in space.
This second play is what all the kids are talking about, one of those RPO’s, which is run-pass-option. This is wholly dependent on the quarterback making a quick decision about how to play what the defense is giving you. It starts with a zone-read, but notice the receiver at the top, who is looking at the quarterback, not sure just yet if he’ll be involved in the play. The quarterback has the option to give the ball to the running back, keep the ball for himself or find an open receiver. That receiver is at his spot and is the safety valve is something goes terribly wrong. Watkins keeps the ball and scores on an easy keeper.
Manny Wilkins (6-3/197) was sufficiently sufficient against Northern Arizona. He completed 74% of his passes, had 1 touchdown and 1 interception, but only 6.7 yards per attempt. This is just fine. It’s what I think Graham wants to do with Wilkins, which is let the ground game carry the team and let Wilkins supplement. Wilkins also ran for 89 yards on 14 carries, good for over 6 yards a touch. That’s where Wilkins will keep you honest. Demario Richard (5-10/220) ran the ball 19 times for 78 yards and Kalen Ballage (6-2/227) had 10 carries for 56 yards.
As a group, Arizona State ran the ball 46 times for 276 yards and 6 yards a rush with 5 touchdowns against Northern Arizona. Better hope that Texas Tech line is ready to see a bunch of this.
I get the feeling that Wilkins will rely on the screen game more than going down field. Tim White is still your best receiver (5-11/175) and I can’t say I know much about the rest of them at this point. White caught 9 passes for 95 yards last week.
6. What to Watch on Defense
I apologize for the two shots here, but there was just one defensive highlight on the embedded highlights above and every time you pause the ESPN highlights, the video screen goes dark. Oh well. Remember, that ASU runs a 3-4 type of defense that’s apparent from here. In fact, I think that Texas Tech’s current defense is similar to what Arizona State runs in that many times there’s an outside linebacker/end that is standing up and sometimes they have their hand on the ground.
This second screen cap gives you an idea about how ASU will give you different looks and notice the cornerback at the bottom of the screen about to BRING IT off the edge and completely overwhelm the left tackle. This is going to happen. Better get used to it.
Defensively, there are few teams that are better than Arizona State at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, good for 111 tackles for a loss last year, third in the nation, and 46 total sacks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that Arizona State is great against the pass as they ranked dead last in pass defense.
Still though, there’s a ton to like about the defense. JoJo Wicker, a Texas Tech target from a few moons ago, will start, as does Alani Latu at the ends, while I think Rennell Wren and Tashon Smallwood will start on the line. There appears to be plenty of talent at linebacker, especially if Christian Sam is healthy and Salamo Fiso is back in the game. Keep in mind that Arizona State loves to hassle quarterbacks. They’re great at it and now that Northern Arizona is out of the way, there’s a good chance that the Sun Devils will be at full strength with Christian Sam and Salamo Fiso. Fiso returns from some sort of suspension and Sam returns from an injury, although that may be questionable. Marcus Ball has to sit out the first half of the game as he was ejected against NAU. Bottom line, they are difference makers.
The problem though is in the secondary and I’m not sure how much that improved last week. Northern Arizona threw for 369 yards on just 33 attempts (there were a couple of Hail Mary’s that went for big yards) for 11.2 yards per attempt. ASU did limit NAU to just 1 touchdown, but still, a quarterback rating of 174 is not a good look for ASU
I like Texas Tech a lot here, probably more than I should because I’m totally biased. I think Texas Tech will be better on offense and slightly better on defense. This is the test for the defense, can they slow down a team that runs the ball like I think Arizona State will run the ball, which is probably at least 40 to 50 times. Give me Texas Tech 45, Arizona State 38.
And now it’s your turn. the current spread has Arizona State favored by anywhere between 3 to 2.5 points. The line originally opened at 5 and I’m a bit surprised that the line has moved 2.5 points in Texas Tech’s favor over the course of the week.