Spartans look for revenge as Arizona State comes to town

Joe Dandron, Sports Director

EAST LANSING, Mich. – As the clock struck zero last season and Mark Dantonio and the Spartans walked off the field against Arizona State on the road – after losing 16-13 in the 100-degree heat, blowing a 13-3 lead they held into the fourth – the season began to trend in the wrong direction.

This time ‘round, Michigan State’s season is heading toward a different outcome, it seems. The Spartans are coming off a 51-17 win over Western Michigan.

Arizona State struggled against Sacramento State last weekend, winning 19-7. Jayden Daniels, a true freshman, is the quarterback at the helm for Herm Edwards, and the Sun Devils are going to be the ones playing in hostile territory this time around.

But for Dantonio, that makes little difference.

“We have to continue to do that and get better and better and better. I thought our offensive line played well, as well,” Dantonio said on Tuesday. “They will be challenged this week with a lot of different looks and some pretty good players up front, as well. So it will be interesting to watch and see how the game unfolds.”

The Spartans, who were 1-0 heading into the game against Arizona State last season, sit in a similar position in year two of the home-and-home. Now, the Spartans will look to avenge last season’s loss.

Here’s what to expect from both sides of the ball from Herm Edwards’ and his team.

The offense

ASU was the only team of the Power 5 to march out a 3,000-yard passer, 1,500-yard rusher and-1,000 yard receiver last season. An offense that was explosive and dynamic, led by future first-round pick N’Keal Harry, no longer has the same athletes at quarterback and receiver. 

The team, now forced to lean on running back Eno Benjamin, is also seeing a rotation at the center spot and left tackle as the season progresses.

“Again they still got a lot of playmakers, It all runs with their running back, Benjamin’s a great player. Probably the best one we have seen up to date,” secondary coach Paul Haynes said. “They’re talented on the outside too with their wideouts, their quarterback is young but he’s talented. They don’t ask him to do a lot.”

Cade Cote – knocked out with a foot injury in camp, was seen as the first team center after Cohl Cabral was moved to left tackle because projected blindside starter Zach Robertson is still out with personal issues.

So this offense isn’t exactly clicking on all cylinders, especially after being the No. 50 rushing team last year and seeing Benjamin set the schools single game and season rushing record set the bar high early on.

(Credit: Zengyi Sun, Instagram: amazingszy)

Benjamin had a nice showing after totaling 167 all-purpose yards and a touchdown reception last week against Sacramento State. But, the Sun Devils only were able to win 19-7.

Benjamin’s stat line was buoyed by a 72-yard touchdown reception that put the game away in the fourth last Friday, so it will be interesting to see if the linebackers of MSU can get out and cover him on the wheel routes. 

The Sun Devils are rolling out a highly touted quarterback recruit in Daniels, an exceptional athlete and the No. 2 prospect in the ESPN dual-threat quarterback rankings for the class of 2019.

“The thing about it is when you watch them, they’re not doing a lot of things differently,”  Haynes said. “They’re not asking him to do a lot (Daniels) but when you have an electric running back like Benjamin to hand it off to … those are easy reads.”

The defense

The Sun Devil defense is one of the more experienced in the PAC-12, and runs a 3-3-5 base defensive scheme. 

“They put a lot of people at the point of attack. A lot of different pressures and movement up front, so a little bit like Western in that fact,” Dantonio said. “A little bit like Tulsa in the fact that they are built from a 3-3-5 standpoint, but there are similarities, but there are definitely differences in the three teams.”

ASU returned it’s top two tacklers from last season in Merlin Robinson and Darien Butler – two exceptional athletes that will help hold down the second level of a defense that MSU tailback Elijah Collins will be looking to break into after a big week.

“Very active, very productive on defense, obviously we have a big task ahead of us,” MSU offensive coordinator Brad Salem said on Wednesday. “They have not allowed a point in the first three quarters.”

A defense that only lost three contributors and starters on its side of the ball will always be the one that plays well and needs little time to gel as a unit. 

Michigan State will matchup with Arizona State at 4 p.m. EST, on FOX, the game will also be broadcasted locally on 88.9 FM in the Lansing area. 

Twitter: @JosephDandronMI

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