The last time that Arizona State faced a Big 12 team, West Virginia and quarterback Skyler Howard incinerated the Sun Devils’ secondary in the Cactus Bowl. Howard threw for five touchdowns and set a bowl record with 532 yards passing as the Mountaineers won, 43-42.
In 2015, Arizona State finished last in pass defense.
A Google search reveals no reports of the International Space Station sighting a bright object in West Texas. Rest assured that Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ eyes are lit up at the prospect of a yardage party Saturday in Tempe (9 p.m. Central, FS1).
Mahomes played just over a half in Texas Tech’s 69-17 victory over Stephen F. Austin in the season opener. He made the most of his playing time, passing for 483 yards and four touchdowns while adding two more TDs running as he rolled up 540 yards of total offense.
But even after his team totaled 758 yards in total offense, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said there was meat left on the bone. In particular, he believed that Mahomes too often resorted to backyard football.
“We have some good playmakers that can make stuff happen in open space. We have Pat, so we covered a lot of things by playing some street ball,” Kingsbury said. “But we have to get a lot better and tighten things up and be a lot more physical this week.”
Mahomes, a junior, was second in the nation in total offense last season. His scrambling and throwing ability are breathtaking. He understands his coach’s assessment of his ability to be patient and read coverages.
“That was the main thing, just kind of getting off my reads early, and you could tell, I was going through the progressions, I guess you would say, but just not really trusting it,” Mahomes said. “I could have definitely done a lot better, got a little loose at some times. I kind of freelanced a little bit more than I would like to, but I mean, we won the game. We scored a lot of points. That’s always encouraging.”
With 57 yards, Mahomes was the Red Raiders’ leading rusher in the opener. One of the offseason questions was finding a productive running back to replace DeAndre Washington, who gained 1,000 yards rushing each of the last two seasons.
Against the Lumberjacks, Texas Tech had 99 plays and threw it 71 times.
“When you’ve got a quarterback like we have (Mahomes), who can throw it every play, be accurate and protect the football, that’s what we’ll do,” Kingsbury said this week. “I’m not one that (says), ‘Hey, we’ve got to establish the ground game’ and bang our head against the wall.
“We’re not going to do that. If we can’t run the ball, we’ll throw it every play.”
While Texas Tech had its opening opponent subdued well before halftime, Arizona State left its fans antsy late into the third quarter. The Sun Devils had a 13-6 lead on FCS member Northern Arizona late in the third quarter before pulling away for a 44-13 victory. A secondary replacing three of its four starters gave up 369 yards passing to Northern Arizona’s Case Cookus.
Arizona State has a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey while sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins will be making his second start against Texas Tech. The Sun Devils finished 6-7 last season and are picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South Division.
“Any DB wants this type of game,” Arizona State sophomore defensive back Armand Perry said. “It’s a big challenge for us in the secondary. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity to make some big plays out there on Saturday night. I just believe that true playmakers can make plays wherever they are on the field.”
Arizona State coach Todd Graham prefers his defense to attack opposing quarterbacks with blitzes. With Mahomes’ scrambling ability and gunslinger mentality, that could present risk/reward opportunities – for both teams.
“The thing that’s different is this guy is kind of a Brett Favre-type quarterback,” Arizona State defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “He has just an uncanny ability to get outside the pocket. He just has a sense; he has that quarterback-sense that he just feels that pressure and has a unique ability to get back outside of containment and when he does, boy, hold onto your hat.”