Arizona State and Texas Tech scored a combined 113 points, and won by a cumulative 83 in Week 1 routs of FCS opponents. Neither contest really leaves too much to glean, making their Week 2 meeting in Tempe the first substantive glimpse at either team.
While both the Sun Devils and Red Raiders have plenty of unknowns, recent history suggests Saturday's contest should provide plenty of offense. Texas Tech has ranked among the nation's most explosive offenses for more than a decade as one of the first programs to adopt the air-raid passing attack. It's undergone variations incarnations since Mike Leach first introduced the scheme, with former Leach-coached quarterback Kliff Kingsbury adding his own twist since taking over as head coach.
Arizona State, meanwhile, rolls with a style dubbed "High Octane" for its quick snaps out of a no-huddle approach. The departure of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell for the head-coaching gig at Memphis leaves the keys of the high-octane engine in the hands of Chip Lindsey, recently a high school coach in Alabama. Considering Arizona State head coach Todd Graham was a high school coach not so long ago himself, the gamble makes sense.
Lindsey's first real test under the Saturday night Pac-12 lights comes as a task of keeping pace with the gun-slinging Red Raiders, and one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
Texas Tech at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 10 p.m. ET
Line: Arizona State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Patrick Mahomes
Texas Tech's quarterback is one of the most electrifying playmakers in college football. The Sun Devils' Graham compared Mahomes to Case Keenum, the former Houston Cougars quarterback who Graham faced as head coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in 2009.
"He's like having an offensive coordinator [on the field]," Graham said, drawing the comparison to Keenum. Graham added one qualifier that differentiates the two, though. "He's bigger: 230 pounds, about 6-foot-4. He's a guy who can really hurt you with his legs and extending plays."
Mahomes' dual-threat ability poses a quandary for the Arizona State defense. Graham's philosophy has long been predicated on bringing consistent pressure with the blitz, but a quarterback as mobile as Mahomes can turn those risks into huge gains for the offense.
2. Who sets the pace early?
Arizona State's offensive performance out of the gate Week 1 against Northern Arizona was sluggish, to say the least. The Sun Devils mustered just 10 first-half points, then picked up the pace with 10 in the third and finally a 24-point deluge in the fourth quarter.
Contrast that with Texas Tech, which hammered Stephen F. Austin for more points in the first half (45) than Arizona State scored all game vs. NAU.
"There was probably some good in that, to learn some things. What I liked is how they responded," Graham said of the slow start. The lessons taken from that sputtering opener will define the Sun Devils' performance on Saturday. "The key to winning and being consistent and competing for a championship is to get better every single week."
Much of Arizona State's offensive anemia early can be attributed to the new faces playing on that side of the ball. Quarterback Manny Wilkins had never thrown a collegiate pass attempt before Saturday, and he operated behind an entirely new offensive line. The Sun Devils' youngsters will line up opposite a Texas Tech defense that returned seven starters, many of whom are in the front seven.
To keep the pressure off of Wilkins early, Arizona State must get running back Demario Richard going early. Richard averaged just 4.1 yards per carry last week against Northern Arizona.
3. Sun Devil secondary
The biggest question mark for Arizona State coming into the season was its secondary. The Sun Devils ranked near the bottom nationally of all pass defenses in 2015 and gave up 363 yards to NAU's Case Cookus in Week 1 of the 2016 campaign.
Graham praised the Sun Devil defense's effort in the red zone, denying the Lumberjacks points after gaining yardage. And indeed, yards alone make for a misleading gauge of a defense, as modern offenses generate yards almost inevitably. Points allowed and touchdown conversion percentages in the red zone are perhaps more accurate statistics.
Texas Tech matches up better with the Arizona State defense than NAU, however, so the Sun Devils run a greater risk of Texas Tech turning red-zone opportunities into points. ASU must limit red-zone chances, which means eliminating big passing plays that move the Red Raiders down the field.
Arizona State's struggles against the pass make Saturday's matchup the worst possible style clash the Sun Devils could see. Kliff Kingsbury will unleash Patrick Mahomes to attack early and often, testing the bend-don't-break style that worked against Northern Arizona.
The Red Raiders will score points; that's almost inevitable. Whether Arizona State can keep pace dictates the Sun Devils' chances. The second half may be a coming-out party for the new-look offense, especially wide receiver N'Keal Harry. His 6-foot-4 frame is reminiscent of former ASU standout Jaelen Strong, and makes for a nice complement to the speedy slot receiver Tim White.
The Sun Devils should get points, as well, but in a shootout, Texas Tech is better equipped to thrive.