An impressive win over Michigan State vaulted Arizona State into the Top 25 after Week 2, but consecutive road games at San Diego State and Washington dropped the Sun Devils to .500 under first-year coach Herm Edwards. Their return home comes at an opportune time, and against Oregon State, an opponent that should allow Arizona State to iron out some kinks before diving into the meat of Pac-12 Conference play.
The Beavers fell to 1-3 last week in a blowout loss to Arizona, extending a losing streak against FBS competition to 14 games. Oregon State's last win over an FBS opponent came in the 2016 edition of the Civil War against rival Oregon.
There should be no misgivings about first-year head coach Jonathan Smith's undertaking in rebuilding Oregon State. The Beavers will endure some tough times in 2018, and a trip to the desert in Week 5 may well be one.
Oregon State at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network
Spread: Arizona State -21
Three Things to Watch
1. Commitment to the run
Despite lackluster rushing performances against Michigan State and San Diego State, Arizona State offensive coordinator Rob Likens remained committed to the run against Washington's outstanding defense a week ago. It paid dividends. Sun Devils running back Eno Benjamin went for 100 yards and scored a touchdown in the hard-fought 27-20 loss against the preseason Pac-12 favorites.
Benjamin should have no trouble getting rolling this week against an Oregon State defense that surrendered a staggering 442 yards rushing at an 8.7-per-carry clip in last week's loss to Arizona. The Beavers rank No. 127 nationally against the run and are worst among Power 5 conference programs at 280.3 yards allowed per game.
Conversely, Oregon State's offense needs to establish a consistent rushing attack to have any chance against the Sun Devils. Running back Jermar Jefferson had his worst output of the season from a per-carry standpoint last week at 4.3. As a team, Oregon State was held below 100 yards and averaged only 2.2 yards with sacks included. The Beavers are still without Artavis Pierce, who will miss the third of a projected four games. That eliminates the diversity of the rushing attack Oregon State can send at the Sun Devils.
2. Under pressure
Oregon State has been one of the worst teams in college football this season when it comes to protecting the quarterbacks. Opponents have 14 sacks against the Beavers, including the three given up last week to Arizona. The challenge gets no easier this week at Arizona State, with coordinator Danny Gonzales overseeing a defense ranked No. 10 nationally with 13 sacks through four games.
Though getting to the quarterback has come at a premium in the last three weeks, Arizona State totaled nine sacks in Week 1. Watch out for the freshman duo of Merlin Robertson and D.J. Davidson. If they start breaking through the Oregon State line, it could be a very long night for the Beavers.
3. N'Keal Harry making up for lost time
Washington's outstanding secondary, coupled with Arizona State's success on the ground, somewhat neutralized standout wide receiver N'Keal Harry in Week 4. Harry caught four passes for just 20 yards, his worst outing since catching three for 13 in a loss at Colorado two years ago.
Arizona State needs the Manny Wilkins-to-Harry connection to function at full strength when the Sun Devils embark on the conference schedule still to come. The Oregon State defense should provide the duo ample opportunity to re-establish their rhythm.
Oregon State finished 1-11 a season ago, and it will likely take an upset at some juncture in 2018 for the Beavers to avoid a similar fate. A late-night road game in the desert is not the optimal setting for springing an upset, especially against a talented team coming off two frustrating road losses.
Arizona State is likely to come out motivated. Eno Benjamin should get the ball early and often to establish the run game. Sprinkle in some home-run balls from Wilkins to Harry, and the Sun Devils can build a big lead early to give the reserves a chance for live game reps.