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Texas Tech to Dance with the Sun Devils in Tempe

Previewing the predicting the Texas Tech at Arizona State week two matchup.

Getty Images - Donald Miralle

The Red Raiders head west for a duel in the desert with Arizona State. Both teams will get their first taste of Power Five football in 2016, each looking to outperform preseason expectations against legitimate competition under the lights.

Last week Arizona State defeated the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 44-13, recovering nicely from an underwhelming halftime lead of 10-3, while Texas Tech handled their business against FCS squad Stephen F Austin.

Can the much-maligned Tech defensive front start to silence critics with a big showing in Tempe, or was last week’s performance solely the product of bad competition?

Personally I’m looking forward to the matchup of the nation’s only two tortilla-tossin’ fan bases. (You heard me. Sun Devil fans have, at times, also taken part in the great tradition of tortilla tossing.)

For the second time of the young season, the Big 12 faces the PAC-12 in hostile territory. Can the Red Raiders come out on top in their dance with the Devils?

Date/Time: September 10, 9:00 PM CT
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
Forecast: Clear, 5 mph winds, high of 103°, 95° at kickoff
Betting Line: Arizona State -3, O/U 79

Texas Tech comes off a one-sided 69-17 beat down of the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. A game in which the Red Raider first-teamers took a commanding 45-3 lead into the break. Junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes lead the FBS in total offense last week en route to racking up six total touchdowns. And the group of receivers impressed, as 18 different Red Raiders caught a pass en route to stacking up a lofty 633 total passing yards. Texas Tech’s offense regained its Air Raid swagger, and that success appears primed to continue after TTU finished 2016’s season opener first in the nation in passing yards and second in total offense.

Even the defensive line did their part, holding SFA to a meager -5 yards on the ground in the first half.  Bullying an FCS team proves nothing, however. If Tech wants to build a real resume to move up the Big 12 hierarchy, they’ll need to notch their first big win of the season on Saturday.

Keys To The Game

Texas Tech Front Seven vs. Arizona State Run Game – Does anybody remember the last time Texas Tech stifled a legitimate team’s ground attack? It’s well-documented how the Red Raiders have been shoved around by strong rushing teams, but the coaching staff and second-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs are excited at the prospect of improvement. Gibbs and company will need to post a performance reminiscent of their game in Fayetteville last season, where the Red Raider defense somehow managed to contain dangerous Razorback running back Alex Collins.

Todd Graham’s Sun Devil squad clearly wants to run the ball, as they put up 276 yards on the ground against Northern Arizona, good for 23rd in the country this weekend. The bulk of that production was split up between sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins (14 carries, 89 yards) and two junior backs in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, who had 78 yards and 56 yards, respectively. Graham and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey likely want to keep Wilkins’ passing load light, as he’ll be starting only his second game under center in his young collegiate career.

Texas Tech’s defensive line has a chance to be drastically improved. After starting every game his true freshman season, DT Breiden Fehoko (the dude chose Tech over ‘Bama and Clemson offers, people) anchors the line next to Ondre Pipkins and DE Kolin Hill, the two transfers from Michigan and Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the Red Raider linebacking core includes three true freshmen in its two-deep, with one listed as the starter at MLB. Coach Kingsbury is about to find out just what he’s got on defense, improved or not, on Saturday in Tempe.

Offensive Line – The one position group that looked shaky for Tech on Saturday was the offensive line. This bunch starts two redshirt freshmen, Terence Steele and Madison Akamnonu, at two key positions, left and right tackle. That duo is talented but unproven, with major depth questions arising should either go down. Patrick Mahomes was pressured and hit more than Kingsbury wanted to see last week, and that was against an FCS defense.

Arizona State brings a pretty fearsome test for the Red Raider offensive line, led by Jojo Wicker, a sophomore defensive end and highly sought-after four-star prospect in high school. The Devils have several other weapons along the defensive front, like DT Tashon Smallwood, that will try to give the Tech offense fits.  Look for the Texas Tech offensive line to struggle, at least early on.

Mahomes will need all of his crafty quickness this weekend; Todd Graham loves to harass quarterbacks with his notoriously blitz-happy defensive scheme. Is a young offensive line ready for big-time competition? I’m not all that optimistic, but they’ll certainly have a platform to prove me wrong on Saturday.

Quarterback Play – When comparing the two passing attacks, it looks like Arizona State brought a pitchfork to a gunfight. As Kliff Kingsbury said last week, the Red Raiders are “loaded” at wideout, claiming to have his deepest and most talented receiving corps yet, including his time at Texas A&M. Per usual, QB Pat Mahomes will need to bear a heavy load for this offense and this team, and having more firepower at WR should help.

Mahomes threw for 483 yards and added 57 yards on the ground in the opener last week. The numbers are flashy, but Kingsbury would like Mahomes to make the easier throws more efficiently rather than relying so heavily on the QB’s patented backyard football playmaking ability. This week, like most weeks, Texas Tech’s fate will largely be in the hands of the junior gunslinger.

The x-factor in this matchup is Arizona State QB Manny Wilkins. The Sun Devils didn’t showcase a whole lot of their passing game against Northern Arizona, opting to pound out yards on the ground. Was that a function of not needing to throw it around against inferior competition or a lack of confidence in a young quarterback? Wilkins showed his dual-threat ability throughout the game on Saturday, highlighted by hurdling over a Lumberjack defender while busting out a big gain for the Sun Devils.

He probably won’t be asked to win the game with his arm, especially not if Arizona State gets their ground game rolling. But for ASU to out-duel Mahomes and the Red Raider offense, Wilkins will need to, at the very least, display consistent accuracy and take care of the football.

Game Prediction

Arizona State wins the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball early on, but the Sun Devil offense can’t keep pace with one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. Texas Tech shoots off a few too many fireworks on offense for the Devils to handle, and the Red Raider defense steps up for a couple of key stops. Texas Tech quiets the crowd in Tempe and heads back to Lubbock with a 45-35 victory.

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