San Diego State vs Arizona State: Get to know the Sun Devils
Get to know the Sun Devils with Chris Karpman of SunDevilSource.com
San Diego State stays home Saturday to play host to Arizona State.
Without their starting quarterback Christian Chapman, the Aztecs are definitely facing a challenge in the #23 ranked Sun Devils.
San Diego State took the first part of their home-and-home in Tempe last year, and now Herm Edwards comes back to his alma mater looking for another win.
To better understand what the Aztecs are really up against we talked to Chris Karpman of SunDevilSource.com to break down the Sun Devils.
Erwin: Arizona State poached some of San Diego State’s staff in the offseason, what are some of the changes they’ve contributed so far?
Chris: First-year defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales spent nearly 20 years learning under Aztecs’ coach Rocky Long, first as player at New Mexico and later in roles as, graduate assistant, video coordinator, special teams coach, defensive assistant and finally, in 2017 at San Diego State, defensive coordinator. Gonzales and cornerbacks coach Tony White, who spent 10 years working under Long, have installed the signature 3-3-5 attacking scheme in Tempe, with some immediate results. Through two games the Sun Devils are ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing defense and No. 16 nationally in scoring defense. They’ve allowed just two touchdowns in two games, including only one to then-No. 15 Michigan State last week. This is an ASU defense that was a disaster in 2015 and 2016, particularly against the pass, and though improved last season, still was quite shaky at times. Even though the defense is filled with young and inexperienced players, the structure has looked more stable this year and the Sun Devils have been tougher to run the ball on, especially on the inside. It’s a sign of a good overall trajectory.
EM: Herm Edwards was a splashy hire for Arizona State and has got them to be ranked this season. Who are the Edwards’ playmakers that contributed to the team’s early rise.
CK: Senior quarterback Manny Wilkins is a an all-league candidate, having learned and improved a lot through two seasons of starting experience. He’s got a great advantage over a lot of teams in the Pac-12 because he has perhaps the best tandem of wide receivers in the league, juniors N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams. Harry, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, is considered by some analysts, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, to be the top eligible NFL wide receiver prospect. Williams was a key player in ASU’s win over Michigan State and had more than 60 catches last season. Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin is athletic and versatile, a natural playmaker who will be a multi-year star.
Defensively, junior cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams are very good, with Lucas considered a likely future mid-to-high NFL pick. Senior nose tackle Renell Wren has been a menace to start the season, completely disruptive against opponents’ run game. ASU starts two true freshmen linebackers, Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler. Robertson had nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble last week.
EM: San Diego State beat the Sundevils in Tempe with a heavy dosage of Rashaad Penny. How will this year’s Sunedevils beat the Aztecs in San Diego?
CK: The key to the game is whether ASU’s top-ranked national run defense can have a similar performance as in its first two games in that regard. This could be the toughest test yet in that regard because the Aztecs are used to playing this exact defense in practices year-round. They’ll come off the ball with no tentativeness. If they break more than one big plays for a touchdown in the run game, ASU will be in trouble. Offensively, the Sun Devils have to just play smart football, not turn it over, be content to take what is given and accept a field position game. SDSU will have a quarterback who has never played before because its starter, Christian Chatman, is out with an injury. He’s unlikely to beat ASU with his arm, so it comes down to a turnover free game that limits the Aztecs’ run ability.
EM: How high is the ceiling for Sundevils football in 2018?
CK: Before the season started I thought it was probably eight wins in a great scenario. But if ASU beats the Aztecs, its win expectation has to be revised upwards, from 6-7 wins as the most likely outcome to 7-8 as the probable range, with nine wins becoming achievable. But it’s still going to be hard to finish above .500 in the Pac-12 this season with the schedule as is.
EM: What’s your take on this game?
CK: The Sun Devils have an edge because while both teams know the others’ defense, Gonzales and White know both the Aztecs’ offensive and defensive personnel. They recruited a lot of the players and helped them develop on a daily basis until December. That, plus the Aztecs are starting a backup quarterback and backup nose tackle and ASU has held up very well against the run. The Aztecs will probably have a much better day on the ground than either of ASU’s first two opponents, but still probably not enough to overcome their broader challenges. I don’t think it’ll be a blowout, however. I haven’t made my final pick yet but it’ll probably be ASU by 7-10 points.