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ASU Football: Brandon Aiyuk and Kalen Ballage face off on Sunday

Two former Devils on the big stage on Sunday.
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Former ASU teammates WR Brandon Aiyuk and RB Kalen Ballage will be playing each other in the NFL for the first time in Week 2.

Aiyuk will be making his NFL debut for the San Francisco 49ers, and Kalen Ballage will be making his New York Jets debut. The game will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, at 10 am MT.

Both the Jets and 49ers lost their week one matchups. Neither player participated in those week 1 games due to Aiyuk being out with a hamstring injury, and Ballage not being on the team yet.

Ballage was picked up this week by New York due to the Jets being depleted by injuries at the running back position (they’re actually also depleted by injuries in general). Starting running back Le’Veon Bell was injured in week 1, and fourth-round selection Lamical Perine questionable with an ankle injury. Perine missed week 1.

Ballage has had a very lackluster NFL career but did have one week in 2018 where he exploded with 12 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. It was just one week, but current Jets Head Coach Adam Gase was Ballage’s Head Coach in Miami then, and clearly believes in him to get the job done as a backup running back behind former Dolphins teammate Frank Gore.

If Perine does indeed sit this week out again, Ballage does have a real chance to get some work considering that Gore is an older player, and while still productive, hasn’t been used as a workhorse back since 2017.

However, as far as productivity goes, Ballage has 110 career carries for 326 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in his career. He’s also been nonexistent as a pass-catcher. Against the 49ers rush defense, which was second in the league last year in rushing yards against with 1,391 rushing yards allowed, he will most likely have a tough time getting back on track.

Brandon Aiyuk, on the other hand, has the chance to not only receive lots of work but also to have a huge NFL debut.

The Jets pass defense isn’t anything to be scared of, and just got torched by the Bills in week 1 for 312 yards and two touchdowns. On top of that, the 49ers number one option in the pass game, TE George Kittle, is out with a sprained knee. The number two option in the 49ers passing attack, WR Deebo Samuel, is on injured reserve with a foot injury.

Brandon Aiyuk could be next in line. It’s unclear where he will be on the depth chart; however, the 49ers Head Coach did say that Aiyuk had earned first-team reps in the practices before he suffered the strained hamstring.

Those practices were a while ago, so it’s unclear if that still stands. He did get some practice time in last week, though, and actually practiced in full on Thursday this week. Therefore, look out for Aiyuk on Sunday.

He had a good offseason and may be rewarded with targets early and often. It’s true that plenty of great NFL wide receivers struggled to adjust to the NFL in their first season, but this Jets secondary does look pretty vulnerable after week 1 outside of safety Marcus Maye.

The matchup’s great, and Aiyuk was a great prospect coming into the draft. It’s tough to predict how rookie wide receivers are going to perform early in their rookie seasons, but this opportunity really could bode for Aiyuk to begin his NFL career with a nice performance.