ASU football is less than 24 hours away from its week one home opener against the New Mexico State Aggies.
Both programs look entirely different since their last meeting in 1999 (NMSU 35 – ASU 7). This time, the strengths of both teams lie within their running back groups.
Caution: Rose does have thorns
The Aggies’ senior running back Larry Rose III is one of the more dominant tailbacks the Sun Devils will face this year.
Rose, a patient runner with superb vision, is a little bulkier than ASU’s freshman running back Eno Benjamin. However, Rose is a proven runner in the NCAA, where he has accumulated 3,624 rush yards throughout his career at NMSU.
Although Rose will get a heavy dosage of carries, the Sun Devils starting linebacker DJ Calhoun said he is confident in his defense.
“Everybody is fast. I mean, it’s not just about them having the body weight,” Calhoun said. “I feel like just our front seven (are focused). We are just all locked in.”
Calhoun led the Sun Devils in tackles in 2016, but the return of starting linebacker Christian Sam is sure to make life easier for the defense.
Ground & Pound
Similar to the Aggies, ASU’s focus will likely be on giving the ball to their running backs. NMSU was one of the worst run defenses in the country a year ago, giving up 244.8 rush yards a game.
For ASU, that should mean plenty of two-back sets with seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard.
The Sun Devils’ tailbacks seem to be well aware of the Aggies' struggles in 2016, but their priority isn’t breaking any rushing records.
“Protecting the quarterback and protecting the ball ... are the most important things,” John Simon, assistant head coach (running backs) said. “Trusting your training, doing what you’ve been coached to do, seeing it, and taking advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves.”
Opportunities should be plentiful against a relatively weak NMSU team.
Advantage belongs to ASU
Although NMSU is packed with veterans on both sides of the ball, the Sun Devils have advantages at their running back, defensive line and wide receiver positions.
It is no surprise ASU has the advantage at wide receiver. The Aggies did not have a wide out accumulate more than 400 receiving yards in 2016. The Sun Devils had three, two of which will be starting on Thursday. Not to mention, ASU will get production out of redshirt sophomore receivers John Humphrey and Ryan Newsome.
Newsome is pegged to see plenty of action on offense and special teams, but he is not sleeping on the talent the Aggies bring to the table.
“I can’t wait for Thursday. Preparation obviously, we have to continue to prepare for that game,” Newsome said. “New Mexico State is not a slouch, so we just got to be ready.”
The predictions below come from The State Press football reporters: Anthony Totri, Mark Harris and Joe Jacquez.
Anthony Totri: ASU beats NMSU 41-24
Mark Harris: ASU beats NMSU 42-17
Joe Jacquez: ASU beats NMSU 55-20