The Beavers are off to their worst start to a season in recent memory. With disheartening losses to Sacramento State, UCLA and Arizona State, and a demolishing in Wisconsin, the Beavers can only improve from here.
There is reason for optimism however as the Beavers are playing a good number of young players that are gaining invaluable experience, and they are performing for the most part. Also, the Wildcats aren't exactly on a hot streak either, as they come to Reser Stadium with their own 4-game losing streak and have lost 9 of their last 10 games stemming back to last season.
As good as their QB Nick Foles and their passing offense has been, they lead the nation in both pass attempts (242) and completions (174); their defense has been anemic, giving up an average of 37.6 points per game and over 500 yards of total offense.
The following six points are the keys to the game for the Beavers to come out with a victory.
1. Control the Ball, Control the Game
This key is two-fold in that the Beavers need to keep the offense on the field. That would require them to establish something that resembles a rushing attack, which has been non-existent essentially the past few weeks, while also protecting the pigskin and not turning it over.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion set school records last week for both pass completions (40) and pass attempts (66), which gives some leeway for the four interceptions that he threw. However, the Sun Devils should have snared at least two more as the errant passes went straight through ASU defenders hands.
In addition to the interceptions thrown, over the first four games, the Beavers have put the ball on the turf 9 times, with four of them being recovered by the opposition. This is a stark contrast to Beaver teams of the past 3 years as Beaver fans rarely saw the ball on the ground thanks to the play of all-world running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
If the Beavers can get a running back over the century mark, history tells us that the Beavers usually win those games (23-4 record over last 27 games with 100 yards +). Also, if the Beavers win the turnover battle, they have a similar winning record (34-8). With the combination of these two, it means that the offense will be on the field and that has to be good for the Beavers as a team.
2. Continued Improvement Along the DL
One of the brighter spots on the Beavers team last week was the play of the defensive line. And really with each game, the unit has improved steadily each week.
Defensive end Scott Crichton is proving to be a stud here early on as he is the team's 2nd leading tackler with 26 tackles. More so, Crichton has already racked up 7 tackles for loss, which is tied for the league lead and ranks 9th in the nation with 1.75 tfls per game. He is also tied for the team lead in sacks with Rusty Fernando, each having recorded three on the season.
Others along the d-line have played well. Being on the lighter side weight wise, some Beaver fans expressed concern about Fernando not being a "Pac-12 sized" DE, he has quieted those critics however.
Some have even compared him to former Beaver great and current Dallas Cowboy, Victor Butler-Strong. Both are undersized but have tremendous speed off the edge and great motors that never stop.
Another young player making a name for himself is Dylan Wynn. The true freshman has quickly become a shining star, earning his first start last week and not disappointing.
On the season, in limited action he leads the team with two fumbles recoveries, has registered 10 tackles with 1.5 tfls.
Kevin Frahm, Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo have also played rather well despite the 0-4 record. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker will need his front four to spend a lot of time in the backfield this week in hopes of making life difficult for Wildcats QB Nick Foles.
3. Start off Strong and Maintain that Level of Play
On the season, the Beavers have been absolutely killed in the 2nd and 4th quarters. The team has been outscored in the 2nd quarter 63-17 alone. Outside of the 4th quarterback comeback against Sacramento State, in which the Beavers put up 15 points, they have yet to score in the last period.
In all of the Wildcats 4 losses, their opponents have built big leads early and forced the Wildcat to become one dimensional, throwing it on nearly every down. Sound familiar?
The Wildcats have a great quarterback in Foles and have surrounded him with playmakers like receivers Juron Criner, Dan Buckner, and David Roberts, as well as running backs Keola Antolin and freshman standout Ka'Deem Carey.
These weapons can put up a lot of points fairly quickly. However, the line that is supposed to open up running holes and keep Foles upright has been a weak spot for the Cats.
The Wildcats defense has gotten beaten up the past three weeks as USC's Matt Barkley threw for over 450 yards and four scores last week. The week before, it was Oregon's rushing attack that gashed the defense for 415 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.
In week 3, Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal amassed over 550 total yards in route to their 37-10 victory. With that, the Beavers can attack the Wildcats defense however they see fit and should be able to move the ball. They just need to put points on the board, as Arizona definitely will.
4. Own the Red Zone, on Both Sides of the Ball
Through their first 4 games, the Beavers have been absolutely horrid in the red zone, both offensively and defensively. On the season, the offense has had the ball inside their opponents' 20-yard line 13 times, but has only come away with four touchdowns.
That's a dismal 30% conversion rate. To further compound their red zone play, they've only converted on 5 field goals. They've committed two red-zone turnovers, missed a field goal and turned the ball over on downs.
In my opinion, there is nothing more disheartening than seeing your team move the ball down the field, only to see the drive stall and not put points up on the board.
Things have been equally rough on the defensive side of the ball as opposing teams are punching the ball into the end-zone at an 83% rate (17 trips inside the Beavers 20, 14 touchdowns). The Beavers need to try to keep the Wildcats out of the red-zone to begin with, however when Arizona does get inside the 20, the defense needs to either force turnovers or at least force the Wildcats to kick field goals.
5. Cut Down on Penalties
What has been a glaring issue with this year's Beaver team is the number of flags they have been drawing. The Beavers are averaging over 7 flags per game, accounting for almost 75 yards per game.
This is extremely uncharacteristic of a Mike Riley-led team. Last week, one of the glaring differences in the game was the number of penalties the Beavers were flagged for.
13 times the Beavers were flagged, which turned into 139 yards for the Sun Devils. It allowed them to keep their offense on the field, or keep ours off of it, and they capitalized on the penalty yardage. The Beavers need to cut down the flags this week if they want to stay in the game.
6. An Area of Inspiration?
It was this time last year in Tucson when James Rodgers went down with his season-ending knee injury due to Arizona safety Adam Hall dragging him down from behind some 6 yards into the end zone.
There has been many a discussion on whether the play was a dirty play on behalf of Hall or just a freak injury, personally I think it was a dirty play on Hall's part. Knowing Rodgers, he will play with a chip on his shoulder and be looking for a bit of pay back with a big game.
But, can Rodger's inspired play carry over to the team and propel them to their 1st victory of the season? We'll see come midday Saturday.