Without N’Keal Harry, ASU football faces a stiff challenge against Fresno State’s defense, ranked as one of the best in the country.
Heading into the 2018 Las Vegas Bowl, the Arizona State Sun Devils will be up against one of their toughest tests on the season in No. 21 Fresno State.
The Fresno State Bulldogs enter the matchup with one of the top defenses in the nation that helped guide the defensive-minded team to an 11-2 record and a Mountain West championship.
A similarity between the teams? Out of the seven combined losses between the teams, all came within one score. These close losses shut out ASU of the opportunity to make the Rose Bowl and a chance at a New Year’s Six bowl appearance for Fresno State.
The matchup between the teams will be a sort of grudge match between the two teams who have constantly fallen short in close games all season.
What makes the Bulldogs one of the toughest opponents for the Sun Devils? For starters the aforementioned defense ranks among the best in the nation at limiting offenses while also scoring themselves.
Here’s a dive into the statistics that show how dominant the Bulldogs defense can be.
No. 17 in Total Defense
After 13 games on the season, Fresno States ranks in the Top-20 in the nation coming in at No. 17 in total defense. The Bulldogs have allowed an even 21 passing touchdowns to 21 rushing touchdowns while allowing 323 yards per game.
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Leading the team on the defensive side is linebacker Jeff Allison who leads the team with 121 tackles. The junior headed into the season with expectations to be one of the best in the nation after being named to the preseason All-Mountain West team.
The expectations stemmed from a year ago where Allison led the team in total tackles with 126 earning the then-sophomore a selection to the All-Mountain West first-team.
Joining Allison at the front of the stout defense is junior Mykal Walker and fellow linebacker James Bailey. Walker currently leads the team with 13.5 tackles for loss while coming in second in sacks with 4.5.
The senior Bailey enters the matchup against ASU fifth on the team with 74 tackles while coming in second at in tackles for loss with 9.5.
13.7 points per game allowed
The most impressive number of many from the Bulldogs comes from the number of points they allow per game. Fresno State comes in at No. 2 in the nation with the impressive mark of just under 14 points per game.
This defense was on full display all season as the Bulldogs held their opponents to single digits in four of their matchups while only allowing three points in three of those games.
If those results from matchups against Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, and UNLV aren’t enough to truly show how good this defense is, here’s how they match up to Arizona State’s offensive stats.
To put this mark in perspective, Arizona State has only scored under 20 points twice on the year in games against Michigan State and Stanford scoring 16 and 13 points respectively in those matchups.
23 Red Zone attempts allowed
Another impressive mark by the Fresno State defense is their ability to limit opponents once they reach the red zone. The Bulldogs currently rank as the best in the nation at limiting opponents scoring in the red zone to a total of 60 percent of the time.
On a total of 23 attempts, Fresno State’s opponents have scored only a mere 14 times with six rushing touchdowns, four passing, and four field goals. The mark of only allowing 23 red zone attempts is outstanding as Arizona State has 46 attempts on the season. The Sun Devils convert at an admirable rate of 87 percent of the time.
ASU converts primarily through their running game in the red zone with 19 rushing touchdowns, to eight passing and 13 field goals to make a total of 40 red zone scores.
Six defensive touchdowns
If limiting the opponents wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs also convert turnovers into touchdowns at a high rate as they are currently tied for second in the nation in defensive touchdowns. Fresno State has three fumbles and three interceptions all returned for touchdowns showing a keen balance in their defense.
The turnovers the team forces come primarily through interceptions as the trio of Mike Bell, Juju Hughes, and Anthoula Kelly each have three interceptions on the season. While their defense is one of the best in the nation at turning turnovers into points, their special teams are equally adept.
Fresno State has blocked four kicks on the year including two in their opening game of the 2018 season with both being returned for touchdowns.
Simply put, the Bulldogs defense is good. With rankings consistently in the Top-5 rankings, Fresno State can easily be listed as the toughest test for Arizona State.
Beyond the eye test of how the team plays on the field, the stats prove that an offense that without star wide receiver N’Keal Harry will have its hands full against one of the best in the nation.