Over halfway through the regular season and Herm Edwards’ Arizona State squad is in the Pac-12 South cellar. They sit at 3-4 overall, but ASU is just 1-3 in conference play, with their one victory coming at home against a 1-6 Oregon State team. They were ranked after week two! How did we get here?
First off, the offense has still not found an identity. When it is crunch time and they need a drive, the Sun Devils don’t really know where to go. If you take out their games against UTSA and Oregon State, ASU has only scored 90 points through 5 games. In the South, they have only scored more than USC and UCLA, two schools that have struggled with injuries at quarterback.
The play calling has been predictable with a tendency to abandon the run in a hurry. Sophomore Eno Benjamin has had a productive season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with seven touchdowns, and offensive coordinator Rob Likens has used him very well to lock up wins while up in ball games. But once the Devils trail, Benjamin’s usage has gone down and most of his run calls have seemingly been conservative. In three wins, he has 470 yards in 59 carries. In four losses, he has 283 yards in 79.
A wasted opportunity for ASU has been star wide out N’Keal Harry. After a 2017 season where he was second in the conference in catches and yards, his usage has plummeted. Harry still has the capability down the field to make huge plays, as we saw with an extraordinary catch during ASU’s week two win over Michigan State. This season he just hasn’t received a ton of deep shots down the field, especially in Arizona State’s losses when Harry averages just over 10 yards per catch.
Although the offense has taken a step back from last season with Likens taking over for current Louisiana head coach Billy Napier, the defense has looked better. They gave up 10 more points per game last year while allowing more yards on both the ground and through the air.
In each of ASU’s losses, the defense allowed less points than they averaged giving up in 2017, even with the offense struggling with time of possession. Defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales has implemented a lot from his successes at San Diego State, and the improvement is evident. They are still a young defense with flaws; they still allow the 63rd most yards in the country. Senior linebacker Koron Crump left the program leaving the Devils with just a handful of upperclassmen starters. They are heading in the right direction on that side of the ball though.
ASU has five games left, three on the road, and four against Pac-12 South competition. Unfortunately, the Devils have to face four teams who have been hot as of late.
They visit USC on Saturday, a squad that had won three straight games prior to their loss against No. 23 Utah last weekend. Trojans quarterback J.T. Daniels suffered a concussion during that Utah game and his availability is uncertain for Clay Helton. If he plays, this USC team is tough.
Next, ASU goes back home to face the Utes. Utah has won its last three, including a road matchup against Stanford. Utah is easier to handle at home, but is still a solid football team near the top of the Pac-12. On November 10, the Sun Devils face UCLA, a program that got off to a miserable start but has since won two straight.
Next up would be a trip to Eugene to face likely their final ranked opponent in No. 19 Oregon before they finish the season on the road at Arizona, the second-worst team in the Pac-12 South.
The South division is still very tight with Utah and USC leading the way at only 3-2. However, since being ranked after two weeks, ASU has fallen to 1-4 in conference. The offense needs to be more aggressive down the field in order to open up the running game and get Harry more chances to make huge plays. If they don’t, they will continue to look stale and easy to defend, which would make getting out of last place an uphill battle.
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