At this point, there’s no use denying it: ASU football is on the verge of repeating its painful season-ending slide of 2011. Just like last year, the 2012 Sun Devils have squandered a promising start and fallen out of the race for the Pac-12 South title, and are now facing the very real possibility of elimination from bowl contention.
At Devils In Detail, we’re just average fans wading through diverse viewpoints and trying to make sense of another season that could be going awry. To wit:
Without blocking, nothing else matters: Coming into 2012, fans fretted about the lack of experience and depth on Arizona State’s offensive line — and for good reason. The unit actually has regressed over the course of the year. In Saturday’s 38-17 loss to USC, the Sun Devils’ O-line play was abysmal, resulting in seven sacks of QB Taylor Kelly and 11 tackles-for-losses. “The defense gave us an opportunity, but the offense has got to pick it up,” ASU left tackle Evan Finkenberg said. “I think it’s just personal pride. We’ve got a lot of seniors on this team, and we want to send them out the right way. We’ve all really bought into this season.”
There’s simply no way a football team can put points on the board without effective run and pass blocking, which, in turn, requires depth at key guard and tackle positions. Sun Devil coach Todd Graham must address his team’s offensive line issues through recruiting and junior college transfers prior to next season.
Best prescription for a sound running game? Better passing: Arizona State’s once-productive rushing attack seems to have taken an early hiatus, and much of the blame rests with the team’s anemic passing attack. Opponents no longer worry about ASU stretching the field, and are free to focus on stopping the Sun Devils’ talented trio of running backs. Against the Trojans, RB Cameron Marshall ran for 22 yards early in the game, but then only had 15 more yards the remainder of the day. Ditto for D.J. Foster and Marion Grice, who combined for just 15 yards on eight carries. The lack of rushing production, coupled with tightly covered receivers, had a significant impact on Kelly, who finished 19 of 30 for 174 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
ASU’s “high octane” approach is contingent upon a successful ground game; without it, the offense becomes one-dimensional and predictable. We’re certain the Devils’ next coaching opponent, Washington State’s Mike Leach, has taken note of this fact.
Stop shooting yourself in the foot: Since arriving on the Arizona State campus, Graham has preached the virtues of mistake-free football. However, his team seems appears to be returning to its Erickson-era ways. ASU committed four turnovers and seven penalties against USC, and was burnt by the slant route on third down consistently through the day. “We can’t sustain a tempo because we’re making too many mental errors,” Graham said. “We didn’t have a chance today (against USC) because we didn’t do anything on offense except for turn the ball over.”
Second half spells doom: In recent weeks, Arizona State’s “pedal-to-the-metal” game plan has come to a screeching halt at the most inopportune times. Against USC, the Sun Devils managed to achieve a halftime tie, but just like the UCLA and Oregon State games, they were dominated in the second half. ASU had season-lows in yards and points, doing all of its scoring off Trojan turnovers and getting shut out in the final 27 minutes. Even Graham seemed perplexed: “Came in at halftime (tied) 14-14 and no doubt in my mind I thought we were going to win,” he said. “ … We just really played poorly offensively.”
Arizona State now faces an early, but unavoidable moment of truth in its rebuilding process. Beat Washington State this Saturday, and then topple rival Arizona the following week, and the Devils will end the season on a positive note. A lose in one or both of these games will test the perseverance of ASU fans.
In football, patience is a virtue with an exceeding short shelf life.