Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview Week 2 games: Michigan vs. Western Michigan and Michigan State vs. Arizona State. The Detroit News
MICHIGAN STATE AT ARIZONA STATE
Kickoff: 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Line: Michigan State by 6
View from the other side
Jeff Metcalfe, who covers Arizona State for the Arizona Republic, breaks down the Sun Devils for The Detroit News answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Arizona State-Michigan State game. You can follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe
1. Could Herm Edwards’ first game as Arizona State’s coach gone any better and what does it mean moving forward?
Given the national skepticism about the Edwards’ hire and uncertainty about ASU’s defense after three consecutive statistically nightmarish seasons on that side, a 49-7 win over UTSA was meaningful. I expected a closer game than the 18-point spread because I didn’t think even on offense, where the Sun Devils are experienced, they would perform to that level (UTSA was No. 5 nationally in total defense in 2017). I felt all along that ASU (7-6 in 2017) would contend for a bowl instead of being a three-win team as some believed given its schedule. Winning big in the opener and particularly showing defensive promise reinforced that belief.
2. The defense was dominant against UTSA, allowing just 2 rushing yards and recording nine sacks. Should we expect more of the same this week?
ASU is now playing a 3-3-5 defense under new coordinator Danny Gonzales but frequently lines four up front with movement designed to confuse the offense. Tackling was much improved in Game 1, and the Sun Devils gave up only a few yards after contact. But they are inexperienced at the linebacker level, where the return of senior Jay Jay Wilson from suspension will be welcomed. Wilson is a pass-rushing addition but anything beyond 4-5 sacks would be a major achievement against a Big Ten contender. Holding the Spartans to 100 yards rushing would seem like a win to me although probably not Gonzales.
3. Can quarterback Manny Wilkins continue to be efficient despite facing consistent pressure, as he did in the opener?
Wilkins is among the least of ASU’s issues in any game in this his senior season. He’s a three-year starter who’s seen almost everything come at him in the previous two, growing exponentially as a leader and in his decision making. ASU was No. 120 nationally in sacks allowed in 2017 and Wilkins still maintained his composure and kept performing despite playing on a broken toe for most of the season. So to be honest, what he faced against UTSA was insignificant and he bragged on the revamped offensive line for not allowing a sack.
4. Does Michigan State have any chance of containing WR N’Keal Harry if it chooses to cover him one on one?
I see Justin Layne is 6-3 so he’s at least got the size to contest 6-4 Harry and I would assume experience going against Felton Davis in practice. But Harry is special, that’s the word everyone uses for a NFL first-round draft prospect, so a steady diet of 1-on-1 is risky. He is fast enough to reverse field and turn something short into a spectacular 31-yard touchdown like at the end of the third quarter against UTSA. ASU is deep at wide receiver and only gave a hint of what it’s capable of doing in the pass game last week so doubling Harry can be a problem too that creates openings for Wilkins to go elsewhere.
5. What sort of impact would a win over a top-15 team from the Big Ten East mean for Edwards and the Sun Devils?
ASU rose up on defense to upset No. 5 Washington 13-7 at home last year but that and a winning season for the first time in three years wasn’t enough to save Todd Graham’s job. A win of close that magnitude this early in the Edwards’ era would validate the coaching change for some and completely change the preseason narrative of ASU being destined for last in the Pac-12 South. ASU is 9-0 at home vs. Big Ten teams including a strange finish against Wisconsin in 2013 so fans have come to believe there’s some sort of mojo going on that the heat, late start and Inferno student section deserve partial credit for.
Players to watch
■ N’Keal Harry, WR: The junior is one of the top receivers in the nation and didn’t disappoint in the opener as he had six receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a highlight-reel, 58-yarder. He’s had a reception in all 26 of his career games, tied for the eighth-longest active streak in the FBS and his 146 career catches are ninth in ASU history. He isn’t the small, quick receiver the Spartans saw a lot of last week, but at 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, he’ll be tough to cover one-on-one.
■ Manny Wilkins, QB: The fifth-year senior is in his third season as the Sun Devils’ starter and has thrown for 5,836 yards, good for 10th in program history. He was honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season after throwing for 3,270 yards and 20 touchdowns and averaged 251.4 yards a game. He’ll challenge the Spartans with his accuracy but also will put pressure on the MSU defense with his feet as he has run for 12 touchdowns in his career.
■ Chase Lucas, CB: The sophomore corner was a freshman All-American last season and was on his game in the opener against UTSA, allowing two completions on six targets while recording three tackles for loss among his total of five. He’ll have his work cut out for him guarding any of Michigan State’s receivers, but expect Lucas to spend plenty of time following Felton Davis around the field.
Facts and figures
■ Unbeaten: Traveling to play at Sun Devil Stadium hasn’t gone well for teams from the Big Ten. In nine previous matchups, Arizona State has come out on top all nine times. Michigan State at least has some good memories from the stadium, recording a 17-16 victory over TCU in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
■ Sack attack: Arizona State recorded nine sacks in its season-opening victory over UTSA, the most since the Sun Devils had nine sacks against UCLA in 2013. The Sun Devils also had 15 tackles for loss, the most since 2010 against Washington State.
■ Tough sledding: Michigan State held Utah State to just 25 rushing yards, the 73rd time in 146 games under Mark Dantonio that the Spartans have held their opponent to less than 100 yards. Last season, Michigan State allowed 95.3 yards a game on the ground, good for second-best in the nation.