Arizona State vs. Oregon State preview: And thus begins the road trip from hell

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

Crunch time is here for the ASU football team, folks. Here's all you need to know for the Sun Devils' matchup against No. 11 Oregon State.

What's the cure for a once-promising team coming off back-to-back devastating home losses? A two game road trip against ranked conference opponents, duh.

Doesn't sound like much fun but that's the hand that Arizona State football has been dealt.

Don't judge my sarcasm the wrong way though; I still fully believe that this team has a legitimate shot at a Pac-12 South title if they take care of their business.

But if you've watched the Sun Devils the past two weeks, it should be pretty clear that there is a lot of things not working like they used to and the team needs to be proactive in fixing those flaws.

In honor of hoping for that change, we're going to be switching up our preview format. So here goes nothing gang: let's look at Arizona State's best case and worse case scenarios against the Oregon State Beavers this Saturday:

Best Case Scenario

  1. Taylor Kelly has a Mizzou flashback: Most of you are probably thinking I'm insane for even suggesting such a thing with Kelly's final stat line from that game (14-of-23, 178 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions). But this is one of those rare cases in which the box score doesn't tell the whole tale. Against the Tigers, Kelly almost willed his team to victory in spite of a very vanilla offensive gameplan thanks to some savvy improvisation skills. The way he single-handedly lead his team back from that 24-7 hole in a hostile environment against a similar defensive front should inspire confidence in the fans. I envision a lot of things not going this offense's way Saturday so Kelly will need to be quick on his feet once again.
  2. ASU puts UCLA's last drive in the rear view mirror: The Devils can't afford to allow the bad taste from the Bruins' lightening fast, 65-yard, game-winning drive to linger in the mouths. The Beavers' air attack is approximately 5.45 times more efficient than UCLA's according to my eyes, so if there's any hangover, OSU could run up the score in a hurry. A lot of Brett Hundley's success last weekend had to do with the lack of pass rush so Todd Graham and friends will have to get a bit more creative with their blitzes this time around. Oregon State's offense line isn't the most coherent when it comes to pass protection so hopefully Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali will be able to have their way with them.
  3. Marion Grice and D.J. Foster continue to do their best WR impressions: It's difficult to not believe that this offense isn't at its most effective state when Grice and Foster are on the line of scrimmage. On the season, the duo have combined for 742 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns. Not too shabby for a pair of gentlemen who were expected to do most their work in between the tackles. Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer has the ability to eliminate a pass catcher from the game and fellow coverage men Rashaad Reynolds and Ryan Murphy have shown flashes of that ball hawk gene as well this season. Against a stout secondary like the Beavers', ASU will need to go four or five wide and the two aforementioned running backs may be Kelly's most reliable options when it comes to someone getting open.

Worst Case Scenario

  1. QB Cody Vaz continues to be flawless: Although the average Pac-12 fan isn't probably aware, Vaz didn't turnover the ball once in the two games he started in place of Sean Mannion earlier this year. With Mannion's awful return from arthroscopic knee surgery last Saturday against Washington (four interceptions), OSU head coach Mike Riley has now elected to go back to Vaz as the starter. After replacing Mannion against the Huskies, Vaz almost lead the team to a late victory with his pinpoint-like accuracy. Now, the Devils will have to find a way to limit the damage that Vaz's precision can create in pass-first system like the Beavers'. So much of what ASU does revolves around takeaways so if Vaz continues his careful ways, it's going to be difficult to survive on the road.
  2. No holes to be found for ASU's trio of running backs: The dominance of the Beaver's front seven has been the biggest surprise for this team. Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo are huge space-eaters in the middle and DE Scott Crichton (12.5 TFL) loves to live in the opponents' backfield. Making matters worse is that behind them are three well-disciplined linebackers that are rarely fooled or found out of place. All that adds up to an Oregon State defense that is fifth-best in the nation in rushing yards allowed (83.4 YPG). ASU RB Cameron Marshall was a wrecking ball last year against OSU (14 carries, 80 yards, two touchdowns) but if you've watching any of his play this season you'd know he just isn't the same back. If D.J. Foster can't carry over the burst he showed against UCLA, this rushing attack, and this entire offense, will undoubtedly be eaten alive.
  3. DT Will Sutton isn't what we remembered - If you haven't heard the good news, Sutton's knee injury has progressed enough to where he is now expected to play, according to reports. While his presence is sure to provide a huge boost, Graham still only predicts the disruptive defensive tackle to play about "75 percent" of the snaps. Furthermore, there's little guarantee that Sutton is going to immediately be the force he was before the knee injury, especially since any weakening of his leg could mean less leverage. OSU is 114th in rushing offense so there won't be any Oregon flashbacks no matter what but Sutton's pass-rushing skills will be needed as much as they ever have against the Beavers. If Vaz has all the time in the world, Bradin Cooks and Markus Wheaton will shred the Devils' beatable secondary with their many deep routes.
Final Prediction: Arizona State 31 - Oregon State 38 - Before everyone begins getting back into "sky is falling" mode, let me remind you that this isn't really one of the must win games like USC or Arizona. For me, I'd like to see the Devils take a step back in the right direction more than anything. There's little chance ASU wins the turnover battle with how efficient Oregon State has been on both sides of the ball so that hurts their chances on the road. The running game is going to disappear at times but I envision Kelly recapturing some of that early season confidence with a gritty performance. This one will be close until the end but ultimately Arizona State's pass rush isn't healthy enough to hide their flawed secondary. Expect Vaz to be efficient and take advantage of every takeaway the Beavers' defense gives him.

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