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Get to Know the Opponent: Arizona State

The Spartans look for revenge for last season’s loss in Tempe.

NCAA Football: Sacramento State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2-0 start Michigan State plays its first Power Five opponent this week when Arizona State comes to East Lansing. The game is the second part of a home-and-home series between the two schools, with ASU holding serve in Tempe last year in part one. The Spartans will be looking for some revenge on Saturday.

School: Arizona State University

Nickname: Sun Devils

Conference: Pac-12

Location: Tempe, Arizona

Head Coach: Herman Edwards (2nd season, 9-6 overall)

Record: 2-0 (7-6 in 2018, lost Las Vegas Bowl to Fresno State)

Mascot: Sparky the Sun Devil

All Time Series: 1-2-0 (Last meeting Arizona State won 16-13 in Tempe)

The Sun Devils had an up-and-down first season under Herm Edwards. After starting 2-0, ASU lost four of its next five games, before finishing the regular season winning four of five. All of their regular season losses were close, losing by seven on four different occasions and two in the other one.

Once again Arizona State is 2-0 to start the season, but the wins have been rather unimpressive ones against MAC opponent Kent State and FCS Sacramento State. This will be a major test for them, but should also provide a good test for the Spartans heading into the Big Ten schedule.

Team Stats

The Sun Devils come into East Lansing averaging 24.5 points per game through their first two contests. That checks in at 85th in the country. Last season with a senior QB and a first round receiver, ASU wasn’t a whole lot better, averaging 29.9 points per game (59th nationally).

ASU is 60th in the country in total offense in their first two games, averaging 425 yards. They are 52nd in yards per play with an average of 6.25 yards per play.

On the ground it has been a struggle for the Sun Devils. They are 94th in total rushing at 131 yards per game, but they are averaging just 3.08 yards per carry, which is 110th nationally. That doesn’t bode well when going up against the nation’s top rushing defense.

Things are better through the air for ASU. They check in at 33rd in the country in passing yards at 294 yards per game. They are third in the country in yards per attempt at an impressive 11.5 yards per pass and they have the 18th best team QB rating through week two. It should be noted though that ASU is just 101st in pass attempts per game.

Through two games, Arizona State has run the ball on 62.5% of their plays, despite not being very effective in the run game.

NCAA Football: Sacramento State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On defense ASU comes in allowing just seven points per game, fifth best in the country. They allowed one touchdown in each of their first two games. But again, we need to keep in mind with all of this that they have played Kent State, who is 124th in total offense this year and was 83rd last year, and FCS Sacramento State.

As you would expect with that scoring number, ASU is also solid in the total defense numbers. They are 21st overall allowing 252.5 yards per game, and 13th in defensive yards per play.

(Michigan State is still better in both categories FYI)

The Sun Devils check in at 22nd in rush defense, allowing 81 yards per game, and 23rd in yards per attempt at 2.57 yards per rush. Last year ASU was middle of the pack in both categories.

In the passing game, Arizona State comes in at 34th in total pass defense, having allowed an average of 171.5 yards per game. They are ninth in yards per attempt at just 4.6 yards per pass and 20th in opponent QB rating.

Players to Watch

Jayden Daniels has taken over as quarterback for ASU, following three year starter Manny Wilkins graduation. Daniels is a true freshman dual-threat quarterback who was a four-star prospect coming out of San Bernardino, California.

Through his first two games Daniels is 32-for-51 (62.7%) passing the ball for 588 yards and three touchdowns. He has not been picked off yet, and as we mentioned, is averaging 11.5 yards per attempt.

On the ground Daniels has rushed for 38 yards on 19 attempts and has a touchdown. That’s not overly impressive numbers, but he has averaged 9.5 runs per game so he is a threat to run.

One other note on the true freshman, he checks in at 6-3 and just 175 pounds. So durability might be a concern.

Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin leads the Sun Devils in rushing through two games after rushing for over 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. The totals haven’t been as kind so far though, as Benjamin is at 3.72 yards per carry, almost two yards down from where he was last year.

NCAA Football: Sacramento State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eno also is the team’s second leading receiver so far, with seven catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

The top wideout so far is Brandon Aiyuk, who has eight receptions for 238 yards and a touchdown. Aiyuk is a senior who was second on the team in yards a season ago behind N’Keal Harry.

The ASU defense has racked up six sacks through the first two games, with linebacker Khaylan Kearse-Thomas and DE DJ Davidson each picking up a sack and a half. Those two are also the team leaders in tackles for loss, at 3.5 and 2.5 respectively.

Sophomore linebacker Merlin Robertson is one of the team leaders in tackles through two games after leading ASU in tackles, TFL’s and sacks last year. He was the PAC-12 freshman of the year last year, and is on the pre-season Nagurski and Bednarik watch lists.

Red-shirt freshman kicker Cristian Zendejas is 7-for-7 on field goals this season, with a long of 40 yards.