The Arizona State Sun Devils are 2-0 following an insane shootout victory over Texas Tech last weekend in Tempe.
In order to carry an unblemished record into conference play, they’ll need to come through in their first road test of the season when they take on Texas-San Antonio on Friday night.
Can the Devils improve to 3-0 heading into their Pac-12 opener Sept. 24 vs. Cal? Here are three questions and a prediction for ASU vs. UTSA, which begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
1. Will Wilkins weather his first road test?
The first game I ever played on a computer was “Happy Hurdler” on the Commodore 64. It was 1985 and the graphics were terrible, but when I was just four years old, I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Right now, ASU's own (forgive me) happy hurdler, quarterback Manny Wilkins, is playing opponents like they're nothing more than a simple computer game. Not only has the dual-threat QB looked sharp through the air and on the ground in his fist two NCAA starts, he's leapt over not one but two defenders, which has earned respect from the likes of American track and field star Lolo Jones.
.@MANNY_WILKINS5 DID IT AGAIN
MAMA, THERE GOES THAT HURDLIN' MAN #TTUvsASU #Pac12FB pic.twitter.com/nevjhbgL5X
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 11, 2016
Form: This is how every football player should hurdle a defender. Con: Need more run off the hurdle. score: A- https://t.co/c9vgEtOASl
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) September 12, 2016
Wilkins was outstanding in ASU's win over the Red Raiders -- but while UTSA is a team the Sun Devils should beat, Friday will be the redshirt sophomore's first collegiate game in a hostile environment. Will he handle the pressure as easily as he hurdles defenders?
2. Will UTSA’s defense present a challenge?
The Roadrunners don’t have an especially daunting defense, but they’ll be the best the Devils will face during their three game non-conference schedule. Under first-year defensive coordinator Pete Golding, visiting UTSA limited a respectable Colorado State team to 23 points and 328 total yards last weekend, albeit in a losing effort.
CSU, however, was able to wear UTSA down with its rushing attack, which is what ASU figures to do, especially coming off Kalen Ballage’s record-setting performance against Texas Tech. Will the combo of Ballage, Wilkins and Demario Richard be too much for the Roadrunners to handle?
3. Will Jarveon Williams return to form?
Junior quarterback Dalton Sturm has been decent for the Roadrunners thus far, but UTSA is desperately missing production from its top offensive player, senior running back Jarveon Williams.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pounder rushed for over 1,000 yards and was fourth among Conference USA players with 6.0 yards per carry last season. But Williams has been playing with a sprained ankle that has severely limited his production, as he rushed for just 10 yards on eight carries against CSU.
Since this will be a Friday game, Williams will have one fewer day than usual to rest his ankle and prepare for the Sun Devils. Will he be any healthier come Friday night – and if he is, will it matter against an ASU defense that held Texas Tech to 72 rushing yards on 22 attempts?
ASU heads to San Antonio as a 19-point favorite. That sounds about right, although road tests tend to be tricky and unpredictable regardless of the opponent. The 2014 Arizona Wildcats team that won the Pac-12 South championship nearly stumbled early in the season at UTSA, grinding out a 26-23 win.
But last weekend revealed a certain toughness and swagger among these Sun Devils that has surprised even some of their most hardcore fans. Yes, ASU’s offense has yet to face a stiff test, and its defense, which is still dealing with injuries, must show improvement as the season goes on. But the good news is the Devils are winning as they put those pieces together.
I don’t think ASU will cover the spread on Friday, but the Sun Devils' high-powered, up-tempo attack will be too much for the Roadrunners to keep up with for 60 minutes. Look for the Devils to enter Pac-12 play a perfect 3-0.
ASU 31, UTSA 19