Start time: Friday, Sept. 16, 8:30 p.m. CST
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
Streaming: WATCH ESPN
Betting Line: Arizona State -19.5, O/U 60
All-time Series: First Meeting
Arizona State Coverage: House of Sparky
Through six seasons UTSA football has failed to log a win against a Power Five opponent despite hosting Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Arizona in the Alamodome. They’ll get another chance to carve out a program-defining victory tomorrow as the Arizona State Sun Devils travel to the Alamodome for a Friday night tango on ESPN2. #Pac12AfterDark makes it’s long-anticipated debut in San Antonio with the game set to kick off at 9:30 pm on the east coast.
Arizona State Outlook
Hopes are flaring in Tempe as the Sun Devils look a little bit better than most expected heading into the 2016 season. Stud running back Kalen Ballage has paced the offense thus far as the powerful back has yet to find an opponent that could contain his physicality. Standing at 6’3”, 230 pounds, Ballage has already rushed for eight touchdowns and 193 yards on 23 carries this year.
Ballage may be the focal point of the offense but sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins is no joke under center. The first year starter put up a ridiculous stat line against Texas Tech’s admittedly porous defense as he finished with 351 yards, two passing touchdowns, and a 75% completion rate as the Sun Devils walked away with a late night 68-55 victory.
Former Southern Miss offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has the Sun Devils’ offense humming in his new role and he built onto his early success by introducing a new highly-effective personnel package in the red zone against Texas Tech. The “Sparky” formation is essentially a typical Wildcat formation in which running back Kalen Ballage receives snaps out of the shotgun. ASU only showed two plays out of the formation— power right and counter left— but it’s a safe bet that Lindsey has more wrinkles up his sleeve.
Arizona State’s only readily apparent weakness comes on the defensive side of the ball. The Sun Devils finished dead last in pass defense last season as their secondary’s man coverage lead to way too many long completions. Safety Kareem Orr has played well early for the Sun Devils, notching eight solo tackles and one tackle for a loss against Texas Tech.
Despite the questionable secondary not all is lost on defense for the Sun Devils. Arizona State’s front seven is solid and should impede UTSA’s struggling run game. Linebackers DJ Calhoun and Koron Crump made their presence felt against Tech with a combined 7.5 tackles and two sacks. If Arizona State’s secondary can slow down Dalton Sturm and UTSA’s receivers then Arizona State should be able to escape unscathed from the Alamodome.
At 1-1 the Roadrunners come into the contest right where most expected them— improved in some areas but still picking up the nuances of new systems on both sides of the ball. The bright spot of the season has been the development of returning starting quarterback Dalton Sturm. Despite Sturm’s strong performances this season (73%, 450 yards, four TDs) head coach Frank Wilson continues to pull Sturm out of games in favor of FCS graduate transfer Jared Johnson.
While Johnson showed improvement in his second game in the Roadrunners’ system he’s still way behind the curve as he’s completing just 47% of his passes and has yet to lead UTSA on a scoring drive this season. Peculiarly enough, Wilson is still dedicated to keeping the quarterback rotation spinning, perhaps at the cost of the offense’s rhythm and chemistry.
The main takeaway from UTSA’s 23-14 defeat against Colorado State last week is that UTSA’s run game has severely digressed. Senior running back Jarveon Williams hasn’t been able to perform to the best of his abilities due to an ankle injury but the offensive line has failed to generate gracious running lanes regardless.
Given Arizona State’s strength against the run on defense we may see offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo open up the passing game by letting Sturm run the spread. The Roadrunners have mostly lined up in pro offense packages but seem to move the ball much more efficiently with four receivers spread out.
If UTSA can work a miracle and slow down Kalen Ballage they’ll actually have some advantages against Arizona State’s offense. The Roadrunners secondary, while mostly untested, has been quite sound against the pass this season. UTSA’s defense ranks 14th in the nation in passing success rate. Stated plainly, UTSA’s opponents are effective passing the football on just 26% of attempts (national average 40%).
Additionally the Roadrunners have a bit of an unexpected leg up as defensive coordinator Pete Golding knows Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s offense as well as anyone. The two spent one season together at Southern Miss while Golding was coaching the Golden Eagles’ safeties. A small edge, sure, but UTSA will take any advantage they can muster.
The Roadrunners are going to win a game like this some day but this is too much of a nightmare matchup for the Roadrunners. I think Ballage will have another monster outing (maybe not eight touchdowns) and frequent, aggressive blitzing from ASU will leave UTSA’s offensive line spinning in circles despite a pretty good showing from Dalton Sturm and the UTSA wideouts. Look forward to another high scoring game as #Pac12AfterDark stays undefeated.
Arizona State 41 UTSA 24