Oregon's speed, length on defense poses a unique test for ASU football

Film junkie Demario Richard has studied the Ducks extensively

ASU football junior running back Demario Richard is a self-described “offensive freak” who loves to break down film.

It’s why Richard’s insight into opposing defenses is so valuable, along with his personality that has made him a fan favorite.

The work ethic Richard has developed didn’t happen by accident, and he emphasized that he devotes extra attention to studying game film to become a better player and leader.

“When you’re a student of the game, not just playing football,” Richard said. “When you’re up here, when nobody else is up here, watching film by yourself, or you’re at home watching film by yourself, it’s easy work.”

His analysis of Oregon’s 4-3 defense was unconventional, dismissing that there would need to be significant adjustments based on scheme alone. Instead, he pointed out another key difference: size.

“Oregon’s defense, it’s like a basketball team,” Richard said. “They’ve got a lot of tall guys on defense. They’re just out wide, they’ve got long arms, and they can put their arm up in the air and bat the ball down.”

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has observed that Richard’s presence has been a “calming factor” for freshman quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole. Head coach Todd Graham and others have used variations of that same phrase to describe Richard quite often this season.

“It’s extremely important,” Lindsey said. “We’ve talked to our running backs (Richard and junior running back Kalen Ballage) about that. When you’ve got a young quarterback, he’s gonna look around at times when the bullets start flying. I think those two guys have really bought into that.”

Lindsey said redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins was on track to be ready to play Saturday at Oregon, adding “that’s what we’re hoping.”

“He’s doing well,” Lindsey said. “He’s trying to do everything he can do to be ready.”

Freshman connection

Sterling Cole’s favorite target against Washington State was freshman phenom N’Keal Harry, who has quickly been recognized as one of the top wide receivers in the country.

“N’Keal’s everyone’s top target, probably,” Lindsey said. “Dillon really made some nice throws, and N’Keal made some big plays to bail him out, so that was good.”

Though Harry had been relatively quiet since notching a career-high 78 yards on five catches in a 32-28 win over UTSA on Sept. 16, he came through for Sterling-Cole for three catches of 17 or more yards Saturday, racking up six catches for 76 yards total.

“Sometime’s it’s different for a freshman at this level to come in and practice everyday,” Lindsey said. "I’ve said all along that he’s a really good practice player, doesn’t say a whole lot, pushes himself, he never pulls himself out. I think it showed Saturday night.”

Attacking the Ducks

With injuries plaguing the Sun Devil defense – including sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr, redshirt sophomore safety Armand Perry, junior linebacker Christian Sam out since the start of the season, and now senior linebacker Salamo Fiso down, finding the right personnel to match up with a dangerous Oregon offense will be key for defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.

“They have explosive players at wide receiver, and two or three home-run hitters in there at running back,” Patterson said. “They are very balanced.”

Patterson praised junior Devilbacker Koron Crump after his career-best three sack outing against Washington State, calling him “a pleasant surprise.”

“I had a recruit here on campus, and I show up on Sunday morning and he’s the first guy you run into on the elevator,” Patterson said. “He’s down there in study hall so he can get ahead, so he can get back up there later on that day to study the game film and study opponent film.

"And then, he’s hanging out in (special teams coach Shawn Slocum’s) office and my office. The sky’s the limit for that guy.”

Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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