ASU football heads into its week two showdown against the San Diego State Aztecs (1-0) with more questions than answers. The Sun Devils (1-0) hold a 10-0-1 record against the Aztecs, but after an ugly win versus the New Mexico State Aggies last week, a win is anything but guaranteed.
That’s one shiny Penny
SDSU is widely known for having a superior rushing attack (3,680 rush yards in 2016).
Despite losing last year’s star, running back Donnel Pumphrey, the Aztecs haven’t missed a beat.
Senior tailback Rashaad Penny, a backup in 2016, galloped his way to 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
Last week Penny carried the ball 21 times for 197 yards and two touchdowns, proving he is the feature player in that offense.
SDSU continuously runs the ball if its opponents do not show restraint early on, and ASU senior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood said he is willing to get his hands dirty to stop Penny.
“We got to be physical,” Smallwood said. “They come out and try to take the fight to other teams. We got to come out and take the fight to them. (We) can’t wait to get hit in the mouth, we got to hit them in the mouth.”
Time is of the essence
Last week ASU accumulated 79 net rush yards on 40 carries, in comparison to the Aztecs who piled up 276 rush yards on 52 attempts.
Despite the statistics, ASU has the more talented tailbacks in seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard.
Richard could be limited after leaving last week’s game with a leg injury. However, the Sun Devils can counter SDSU’s running attack by keeping the ball and developing a ground game of their own.
The Aztecs have averaged a longer time of possession than their opponents each season dating back to 2010 (last week 39:06).
If the Sun Devils want to win, they have to keep the ball out of Penny’s hands by keeping possession for more than 29 minutes (last week 29:31).
Redshirt sophomore running back Nick Ralston said it is up to the tailbacks to take control.
“You got two older guys and you got these young kids that are going to be great, and we just got to work together as a group and help carry the team,” Ralston said.
Honor a legend by beating a Chapman
This week is more than just a matchup against a team receiving top 25 votes, it is the game where ASU will honor a legend.
“This week obviously we’ll have the Sunburst (logo) on the helmet and this will be the game that we recognize coach (Frank) Kush,” head coach Todd Graham said.
A loss on Saturday would be heartbreaking for ASU fans, but it would be a bigger disappointment if it was delivered by SDSU’s junior quarterback Christian Chapman.
Chapman is praised for being a game-managing quarterback. However, he rarely throws more than 25 times a game. Last week the Aztecs ran the ball 29 more times than they passed it.
If ASU can force the Aztecs into passing situations and take advantage of a quarterback who is unlikely to put the team on his back, then the Sun Devils will succeed in honoring Kush with a win.
The predictions below come from The State Press football reporters: Anthony Totri, Mark Harris and Joe Jacquez. The number next to the reporter is their record in predicting the winner each week.
Anthony Totri (1-0): ASU beats SDSU 27-24
Mark Harris (1-0): ASU beats SDSU 30-20
Joe Jacquez (1-0): ASU beats SDSU 38-30