The ASU football team faces its first real test Saturday when it travels over 1,000 miles east to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to take on No. 11 Oklahoma State University for the first time in almost 30 years. The Sun Devils have won in the last two meetings against the Cowboys, but will face a completely different and energized team this weekend.
With a lethal rushing attack, the Sun Devils used a combination of redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones and graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay to easily beat NAU 40-3 last week to open its season.
Valladay looks to continue his dominance. He said the team "won't do anything different from our standpoint" running the ball despite the Cowboys' stout defensive line.
The Cowboys have one of the more experienced defensive lines in college football with four redshirt seniors lining up against the Sun Devils.
Oklahoma State likes to play aggressively on defense, and they run "a lot of man-to-man coverage," according to ASU head coach Herm Edwards. Offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas called Oklahoma State's defense "tough" and said "they're a veteran group, and bring some exotic stuff defensively."
Jones had similar thoughts on the Cowboys — he said they run "exotic blitzes" and "have really dominant guys up front."
Despite the Cowboy defense being experienced on paper, they still gave up 44 points last week to Central Michigan, a school not in a Power Five conference. Not only that, the Cowboys were outscored 29-14 in the second half and were out-gained 281 to 138 yards.
"We have to be able to run the ball," Edwards said on the game plan. "It's our offense, along with some other things we want to do."
Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy praised Jones and pointed to the challenges he poses on offense. Jones finished last week with 152 yards through the air on 13 for 18 passing. He notched two rushing touchdowns with 48 yards on 11 rushes.
"They really helped themselves with the quarterback they brought in from Florida," Gundy said. "He's athletic; he can run and make plays with his legs and throws the deep ball well, so it'll be a good challenge for us."
Oklahoma State's strength on offense revolves around the superb play of redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Sanders.
"The key to me is the quarterback (Sanders)," Edwards said. "He's just, he's really — boy — he's something. He's fun to watch. He just makes all the throws."
Sanders had an impressive season opener last week with four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, as well as passing for a career-high 406 passing yards to beat Central Michigan University 58-44.
"I'm scared (of Sanders)," said defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. "He's a good athlete, can move around, extends plays, and knows where the ball is going to go."
It will be a tough task for the Sun Devil defense, but they'll get reinforcement in fifth-year cornerback Timarcus Davis, who will make his debut this season after missing week one. The Sun Devils lose redshirt sophomore cornerback Ed Woods to an injury.
The Cowboys also like to play an up-tempo offense placing an emphasis on moving the ball as quickly as possible. If Oklahoma State gets an early game lead, ASU could be in trouble.
"If they get a big play, they'll play up-tempo, and now you have to play behind the sticks," said fifth-year linebacker and co-captain Kyle Soelle. "Keeping everything in front of us is important."
To stop the Cowboys' potent offense, the first-year defensive coordinator wants to keep Oklahoma State guessing throughout the game.
"We have to keep them off-balance, bring a little pressure," Henderson said. "Play lots of zone as well."
Outside of play on the field, ASU will respond to the atmosphere of Boone Pickens Stadium and the environment that the venue brings. Edwards described the setting as "very noisy," while redshirt sophomore cornerback Ro Torrence said it was "crazy."
"When we are on offense, we are going to have to deal with the noise of the crowd," Edwards said. "We are going to have to play our best."
No matter the outcome, it's going to be a challenge in Stillwater as the Sun Devils search for their second win of the season.
Edited by Walker Smith, Logan Stanley and Piper Hansen.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.