ASU’s young secondary faces Texas Tech gunslinger Mahomes
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State’s young secondary was uneven in its first test, allowing a quarterback from an FCS school to pick them apart.
The competition is about to take a big step up.
A week after allowing Northern Arizona’s Case Cookus to throw for 369 yards, the young Sun Devils will face Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and the Red Raiders’ Air Raid offense.
"It’ll be a big challenge," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "Probably as good as a quarterback as there is out there. He’s got be one of the best, if not the best in the Big 12."
Arizona State had the worst passing defense in the FBS last season, allowing 337.8 yards per game. The Sun Devils had to replace three starters and have a new coach leading the defensive backs this season, so questions about the group lingered.
Slowing Mahomes will be a huge test for the young Sun Devils.
He threw for 1,547 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman at Texas Tech in 2014 and last season, his first as the full-time starter, had 4,653 yards and 36 TDs.
Mahomes got his junior season off to a strong start, throwing for 483 yards and four touchdowns with 57 yards and two more scores rushing in a little over a half of last Saturday’s 69-17 rout of Stephen F. Austin.
The only concern: His protection.
Mahomes was sacked twice and absorbed numerous other hits as Texas Tech’s offensive line struggled at times to keep Stephen F. Austin’s pass rushers at bay.
Though Arizona State is trying to gear back its blitzes this season, the Sun Devils are still an attacking defense and will look to put plenty of pressure on Mahomes.
"Our offensive line has to play better," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Some of those plays, he was forced to get out of the pocket sooner, after watching the tape. But he continued to make plays. He’s playing at a high level."
A few more things to look for when Arizona State hosts Texas Tech:
REMATCH?: Arizona State and Texas Tech played just three years ago, a 37-23 victory by Texas Tech in the 2013 Holiday Bowl. Graham and Kingsbury both coached in that game, but there aren’t many other similarities.
"That was a long time ago. Completely different teams," said Kingsbury, who earned his first bowl victory in that game. "I think Coach Graham’s evolved a lot on both sides of the ball and we have, too."
OFFENSE AND MORE OFFENSE: Sun Devil Stadium could light up with offense Saturday night. Texas Tech is annually one of the nation’s most prolific offenses and put up 758 total yards against Stephen. F. Austin, fourth-highest in school history. Arizona State has been similarly productive in five seasons under Graham, playing at a fast-snapping pace few teams can keep up with. The Sun Devils started slow last week against NAU, but reeled off 24 points in the fourth quarter once they found their rhythm. Leave to get a drink and you could miss not just one score, but two or three.
WILKINS RISES: Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins found himself on the highlight reels last week after hurdling a Northern Arizona defender during a second-quarter run. The rest of his performance was up and down. Wilkins won a lengthy duel with redshirt freshman Brady White to earn the starting nod for the season opener and gave the Sun Devils a run dimension they didn’t have with Mike Bercovici last season. Wilkins threw for 180 yards and ran for 89 more, but Graham was most impressed with his poise and leadership in the opener.
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