The Arizona State Sun Devils didn't really face any resistance their first week of the season, so now it's time for a real battle of attrition in the trenches the first week of the season.
Despite an impressive implosion at the end of last year, Illinois never wavered in maintaining one of the top defensive units in the country. The Illini never surrendered more than 35 points in a game last year, even to juggernauts like Michigan or Wisconsin. When ASU travelled to Urbana-Champaign after a dramatic win over Missouri, a mere two touchdowns were scored by the Devils in a brutal loss. If the first game is any indicator (a 24-7 win over Western Michigan in which -6 rushing yards and one touchdown was allowed), the Illinois should be plenty stiff this season.
No surprise, it was the illinois offense that let the defense down constantly, and booted Ron Zook in favor of Tim Beckman. ASU might have to turn to their defense to really find the path to victory tonight, because Illinois will make it very hard with several playmakers from a solid front seven returning.
If Arizona State can still prove their offense can't be stopped in this setting, then it's about time to stand up and take notice, because these Sun Devils aren't going to find many Pac-12 defenses in this conference as talented as what Illinois has to offer. There could be many more victims ahead for Todd Graham's latest gadgetry in Tempe if Illinois proves to be vulnerable to the heat and the pace.
SB Nation Snippets
Ben Haber breaks down some of the matchups at House of Sparky, with the first tip having to do with containing the quarterback.
1) Keep Illinois Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase In The Pocket
Scheelhaase (Scheel-house) not school house, get it straight auto correct. In all seriousness, the junior quarterback is incredibly fast. ASU can attest to this, giving up 67 rushing yards last year to Scheelhaase.
Scheelhaase is two-dimensional, but clearly prefers running over passing, and rightfully so. Over Illinois' last six contests, Scheelhaase has not eclipsed the 200-yard marker in the air. This means that the Devils need to emphasize keeping him in the pocket, rather than letting the freakish athlete roam around.
At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Scheelhaase a big boy. Therefore, once he hits open turf, it is basically a wrap. I recommend someone on ASU's defense spy him every play. This would cause Scheelhaase to beat the Devils with his arm and not his legs.
Nearly Guaranteed Wins: Colorado
Nearly Guaranteed Losses: at USC, Oregon
Probable Wins: at Oregon State
Probable Losses: at Missouri, Utah
Toss Up: at Cal, UCLA, Washington State, at Arizona
I'm certain many ardent fans will comment bitterly on the classification of any game as having any potential for a loss, but let's be realistic here. Well, as much as can be with the teams currently as they are (we're just a Matt Barkley ACL away from re-categorizing USC).
So, counting NAU and the probable-or-better wins, ASU will be standing at 3-4. For the "Toss Up" games, victory and defeat seem to be equal possibilities, so I factor in a 2-2 split.