Arizona Sun Devils (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) vs. Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (1-1 SU, 0-2 ATS)
College Football Week 3
Date/Time: Friday, September 16, 2016 at 9:30PM EST
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
TV: ESPN 2
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ASU -18/UTSA +18
Over/Under Total: 60.5
The Arizona State Sun Devils travel to the Alamodome to face the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners on Friday night. Arizona State is off to a good start with two wins and covers to open the season. A 44-13 week one warm-up against Northern Arizona was followed by a 68-55 shootout win over Texas Tech in week two in a game where there was a combined 1264 yards of offense. UTSA is 1-1 with a lukewarm start to the season. In week one, they beat FCS school Alcorn State, 26-13, before losing to Colorado State, 23-14, on Saturday. ASU looks to make it 3-0 against their Conference-USA opponent.
For Texas-San Antonio, the trajectory has been downward since a promising 7-win first-year as a full FBS team in 2013. A four-win and three-win season followed and first-year head coach Frank Wilson looks to get that turned around this season. After a long tenure as a positions coach in the SEC, Wilson looks to get the offense on the right track and they have 7 starters back to make that happen. Among the returnees are 1000-yard rusher Jarveon Williams (questionable) and starting QB Dalton Sturm. Also back in the fold are receivers Kerry Thomas and JaBryce Taylor. Marquez McNair has also made an impact early. Sturm can also add some pep with his legs. Jalen Rhodes has been filling in while Williams recovers from an ankle issue. Williams is expected to play in this game.
On one hand, we see an ASU defense giving up over 600 yards and 55 points last week, but that was in a different context. The Texas Tech weapons far surpass what UTSA brings to the table. Most on this offense wouldn’t get playing time in Lubbock—that’s why they’re playing for Texas-San Antonio. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. But even against Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils only led 13-6 until there were just 5 seconds left in the third quarter. We’ll see what the Roadrunners offense can generate, but when you’re throwing up 26 against Alcorn State and 14 against Colorado State, what lies ahead against a Pac-12 team, even one with a dodgy defense? That’s really the question that covering this spread comes down to.
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After all, we know what the ASU offense is going to do. With 112 points in 2 games, UTSA has to hope they’re thrown off by the Alamodome or that maybe they’re overlooking a team that is about as low-profile as it gets. The Roadrunners defense added some talent in the offseason and is more experienced than they were last season. A new coach is putting in a new system and the verdict is still out. Nothing great has stood out about this group to suggest they could thwart a high-octane Pac-12 offense.
Todd Graham is in his fifth season with ASU. After 10-win seasons in both ’13 and ’14, they slipped to 6-7 last season. There are a lot of new faces on offense. The line has a lot of talent and Graham usually gets a group with a lot of young faces up-front in shape quickly. They are going with Manny Wilkins at quarterback, a developing dual-threat sophomore. Against Texas Tech last week, he threw 351 yards on 28-for-37 passing and two touchdowns with no picks. It was impressive how much he spread it around, with some program newcomers mixing in with returning pieces on offense. Eight different receivers caught multiple receptions from Wilkins.
With their two retuning top rushers, Arizona State figured to have the kind of solid run-game that would perfectly suit a young quarterback like Wilkins. Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage were both big on Saturday. But it was the performance of Ballage that will be remembered. He scored eight touchdowns! He ran in 7 and caught another one. The direct snap play was killing Texas Tech all day. He scored on a flea-flicker and a 75-yard TD run, as well. It almost made Damario Richard’s 109-yard performance an afterthought. Ballage tied an NCAA record with the 8 TDs. After struggling for most of three quarters against Northern Arizona, their offense is now in full-bloom.
Defensively, well, that’s another issue. Still, Texas Tech is a hard team to stop and ASU won the shootout—that’s what counts. Sometimes in situations like that, it’s sufficient to have just enough of a playmaking element to stave off a complete free-for-all of offensive overflow. With two picks from DB Gump Hayes, they got that little difference-making element out of what was otherwise a defensive performance that wasn’t very good. With 6 returning starters and a large juco movement, Graham and staff should get better results. At the same time, it’s a “D” that employs a lot of high-risk tactics like a ton of blitzing. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes they’ll get picked apart by sharp offenses.
It’s an easy game with which to jump to conclusions. Arizona State put up 68 against a Big 12 team, so they should go nuts against a Conference-USA FBS newcomer struggling to gain foothold, right? Seems all too easy. In games against Arizona in 2014 and 2015, UTSA was competitive both times, covering the spread with room to spare. Different games mean different things to different teams. For Arizona State, this is a pain in the butt road-trip where they might be challenged to get really fired-up about it. There can be some drag the following week after a gigantic battle-royal like the one they had with the Red Raiders. For the Roadrunners, they get 1-2 chances a year to dip their big toe into the deep end of college football. It usually results in a grittier performance than what one would normally forecast. I think we see some of that this week, as a scrappy Roadrunners bunch keeps this one semi-respectable.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners plus 18 points.
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