In ASU’s 38-24 loss to Washington State, the offense came out swinging and had the Cougars on their heels early. However, the Sun Devils could only muster ten points in the final three quarters. Devils Den offers an analytical recap of the offense in Saturday’s loss.
As predicted by just about everyone, the ASU rushing attack was almost unstoppable, especially early in the game. The Sun Devil offense marched down the field in their first two possessions getting big chunks of yardage with running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Before Washington State could even catch their breath, ASU was up 14-0. In fact, after an interception by ASU defensive back Kareem Orr, ASU threatened to make it 21-0 with the ball inside the five yard line. But they failed to convert. On fourth and goal from the one and a half yard line, ASU coach Todd Graham decided to go for it rather than kicking a field goal. The run was stuffed, and the Cougars took over on downs.
Some fans will argue that Graham should have just taken the three points. Fair enough, but hindsight is 20/20 as everyone knows. No legitimate football fan can really blame coach Graham for going for the throat in that situation. What no one could predict however was how the defensive stand by Washington State would shift momentum the way that it did. The newly energized Cougar offense took the ball on their own 5 yard line and drove the length of the field and kicked a field goal to make the score 14-3.
Statistically speaking, the offense had a solid game. With over 180 yards rushing and 256 yards passing, it would appear that the ASU offense was quite efficient and balanced. Devils Den thinks this is misleading. The truth is that this ASU offense is one-dimensional. The only thing that they can do consistently is run the football. And they run it well. No ASU opponent has been able to truly stop the rushing attack.
While every coach in the country would love to have a potent rushing attack, the Sun Devils cannot seem to parlay that attack into big point production. There are a couple of causes for this. First, for whatever reason, this ASU offense just cannot seem to make a play when they absolutely have to. They can move the ball and threaten to score, but when they need a key third down conversion, they can’t seem to get it. When they need to punch it in for a touchdown, they can’t get it in. This is akin to a hitter in baseball that routinely hits solo homeruns in a blowout loss, but goes hitless with runners in scoring position. It is frustratingly anti-clutch.
This facet of football is hard to nail down. It could be the result of poor leadership on the part of the players. It could be poor play-calling. It could be that this team just doesn’t respond well to pressure. Most likely, it’s a combination of all three. In a weird, fatalistic manner, it’s just not their season. It happens. The looks on the faces of the players and coaches tell the story. It’s an unexplainable frustrating fact that no matter how good ASU can look in spurts, they just can’t get over the hump and nobody really knows why.
The second cause of ASU’s offensive struggles is more apparent: Talent-wise, the offensive players are average. ASU fans have to accept this. The beloved quarterback, Mike Bercovici is an average passer. There’s really no getting around that. True, he can make some incredible throws. But he also misses on simple “gimme” throws and still takes chances with the ball. Bercovici missed on two touchdown passes to wide open receivers on Saturday. This happens almost every week.
Bercovici, however, is not the only factor in the lack of offensive firepower. After nine games, there still is no vertical threat on this offense. The most obvious shortcoming is the fact that no ASU receivers can get good separation from defenders. Even record-setting receiver D.J. Foster cannot get free in the secondary. Whether it’s due to technique, talent or scheme, ASU receivers constantly have defenders glued to them when they try to make a catch. And on the occasions they do get loose, there are a lot of dropped passes. No one has stepped up to replace the departed Jaelan Strong or the injured Cameron Smith to be the go-to receiver. While asking somebody to be the next Jaelan Strong might be a tall order, it’s not unreasonable to ask wide receivers to get open and catch the ball.
A team can only dink and dunk for so long before their lack of a vertical threat bites them. Well, it’s bitten ASU five times so far this season. And unless something changes, or until somebody steps up, it’s not going to get better. No one will say it out loud, but after Saturday’s frustrating loss, undoubtedly there are people in the program that are quietly hoping for the season to just get over with so they can start over. Hopefully, that’s not the prevailing attitude. Hopefully, the players plan on winning out, beating UofA and winning a bowl game.
That’s going to be a tall order. The remaining games on the schedule are not cupcake opponents. The shortcomings on offense combined with the struggles on defense make the month of November somewhat ominous for ASU fans. Time will tell, but the best advice for Sun Devils fans is to not get their hopes up.