Coming off a season-opening win over NAU last weekend, the Arizona State Sun Devils will face their first true test of the season Saturday when Texas Tech and its high-powered offense comes to Tempe.
Here are three questions and a prediction for Sun Devils vs. Red Raiders, which begins Saturday at 7 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.
1. Can ASU slow Mahomes?
This is by far the most pressing question heading into Saturday -- and if the answer is "no," it’s going to be a long night for the Sun Devils.
We've already documented just how good Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes is. The junior led the NCAA’s second-best passing attack last season and is coming off a 483-yard passing game in Tech’s opener against Stephen F. Austin. ASU defensive coordinator Keith Robinson compared the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder to Brett Favre and Magic Johnson -- yes, Magic Johnson -- earlier this week.
In related news, the Sun Devils were the NCAA’s worst last year in passing yards allowed per game, and the injury-depleted unit yielded nearly 400 passing yards to NAU last weekend. It's the kind of potential mismatch that can give ASU fans nightmares.
@ShaneDaleABC15 I had a nightmare the other night that their QB threw for 375 yards on their first play.
— Matt Villanueva (@matt_villanueva) September 9, 2016
What kinds of tricks does Patterson have up his sleeve to limit Mahomes and the Red Raider pass attack – and will they be enough to give the Devils a chance to keep up on the scoreboard?
2. Can Manny Wilkins hurdle Tech’s defense?
Sun Devil quarterback Manny Wilkins made his debut last weekend not only by hurdling a defender in a manner that got Lolo Jones’ attention, but by putting together an efficient, if underwhelming, effort against NAU (180 passing yards, 89 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception).
Wilkins’ first game against an FBS opponent could be a favorable one, as Texas Tech was among the NCAA’s worst in points and yards allowed in 2015. As ASU coach Todd Graham noted, however, this is a different Red Raiders team -- one that has beefed up its pass rush by adding talented transfers from Notre Dame and Michigan to its defensive line.
Will Wilkins expose the Texas Tech defense through the air and on the ground in the same way so many teams did last year? Or will the new-look Raiders catch the dual-threat QB by surprise?
3. Will Ballage and Richard run wild?
Look for ASU to try to establish the running game early against Texas Tech, which was the NCAA’s second-worst team last season in rushing yards allowed per game (279.9).
The Devils have a tailback tandem capable of frustrating the Red Raiders in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, who combined for 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns last weekend. Throw in the speedy Wilkins into the mix, and Texas Tech will have its hands full Saturday.
ASU’s best bet to keep up with Mahomes and Tech’s “air raid” attack seems to be running the ball, controlling the clock and keeping the Red Raiders’ offense off the field as much as possible. Will it prove to be a winning strategy?
To the surprise of many, Vegas has ASU as a 2.5-point favorite heading into Saturday. Oddsmakers obviously place a great deal of emphasis on the home-field advantage the Sun Devils will enjoy Saturday in their newly-remodeled stadium.
With that said, early-season games like these are nearly impossible to predict. This was also the case going into UA’s game against BYU last Saturday in Glendale. In these kinds of tossup games, the more experienced quarterback often proves to be the difference. It was what allowed BYU to slip past ASU's archrival last weekend, and it’s why I believe Mahomes and the Red Raiders will escape Sun Devil Stadium with a win this weekend.
Texas Tech 35, ASU 27