Who: Fresno State Bulldogs (2-0) @ Arizona State Sun Devils(1-1)
Where: Mountain America Stadium, Tempe, AZ (Capacity- 53,599)
When: Saturday, September 16, 2023. 7:30PM
How to Watch: Game is Broadcast on FS1
After suffering an unexpected close call at home against FCS Eastern Washington, Fresno State goes back on the road to take on their second P5 opponent of the year. The Bulldogs are facing Arizona State for the first time since the 2018 Las Vegas Bowl, and both teams have a lot at stake here. Fresno has now won 11 straight games going back to last season, and ASU is hoping to build some momentum in Kenny Dillingham’s first season as the specter of an NCAA investigation looms large. Let’s take a quick look at ASU, and see if the Dogs can send their win streak to an even dozen.
The first question for ASU is a simple one- who is going to be the QB? Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne was expected to be the starter, but a hamstring injury in camp has kept him on the sidelines for the first two games. In his stead, 4* true freshman Jalen Rashada has started to mixed results. There is significant chatter that Pyne will be back and healthy for Saturday, but hamstring injuries can be a finicky one for players. Pyne may not be quite as mobile as Rashada, but he can make the throws that are needed, and can rely on stud running back Cameron Skattebo for the rest. The impressive Sacramento St transfer has already shown why he was such a hot commodity in the portal, with 133yds and 2TDs through the first two games.
If there is a negative for the Sun Devils, it’s that their offense has been thinned out by injuries so far. Their second running back, DeCarlos Brooks, has already been written off for Saturday’s game, leaving Skattebo as the only RB on the roster with more than one carry this season. They are also down both starting tackles, which may force ASU to go more to the screen game than attempting to run up the middle. They have been relying heavily on screens so far this season, although they haven’t quite seen CBs like Cam Lockridge and Carlton Johnson yet. Press coverage may be the order of the day to try to limit any damage that can be done with the short passing game.
On the Fresno State end, it’s really been the tale of two games so far. They lit up the stat sheet against Purdue, with QB Mikey Keene scoring the best debut performance for a Bulldog QB in history; then came home and struggled to maintain momentum and drives against EWU. The coaching staff has been open about the team not being as locked in before the EWU game, but that isn’t something that can happen again this weekend on the road. Maybe it will be another example of Fresno State playing to the level of their opponent like we’ve seen in the past, and a P5 opponent is what they need to play their best. Malik Sherrod’s status will be one to watch after he was unavailable against EWU. Elijah Gilliam has played well in his first two games, but having Sherrod as the experienced speed back would certainly help if Gilliam needs a rest.
Biggest key for the Dogs this weekend is limiting penalties, especially from the offensive line. Last Saturday’s game featured 7 penalties, including multiple drive-killing holding calls from the O-Line. While the O-Line has done a good job of keeping Keene protected so far, but ASU has generated 30 pressures through their first two games. At least this is a defense that Keene and the offense should be used to, with the Devils operating out of a 4-2-5 base look. I’d expect more focus on the short-intermediate throw tree, with probably lots of work for Brooks and Watson over the middle of the field. Jalen Moss and Jaelen Gill have shown why they had so much hype coming in, so hopefully we have a closer performance to the Purdue game than the EWU one when it comes to finishing drives in the endzone.
Looking at the actual game itself, it really depends on which version of Fresno State and Arizona State show up. If it’s the two teams who struggled mightily against their FCS opponents, this game could be an ugly one that no one can feel good about. But if the version of Fresno State’s offense that played against Purdue shows up, then it could be a great evening for the Bulldogs to showcase themselves on national TV as they notch their 12th straight win. Injuries slow down ASU’s offense, and Keene delivers another strong performance picking apart the defense using medium-range throws to Erik Brooks and Tre Watson. My final score prediction for the game will be-