Too often in the past, Sun Devil followers have been smitten by the Pigskin Gods — victims of a cruel turn of events that transformed a likely win into crushing defeat in a big game.
Saturday night, the shoe was on the other foot. Wisconsin fans left Tempe, Ariz., in shock after their team failed to come away with a seemingly inevitable victory in the sweaty confines of Sun Devil Stadium.
Much has already been written about ASU’s stunning 32-30 defeat of Wisconsin. A perplexing set of circumstances kept the Badgers from attempting a winning field goal in the final seconds of the game.
We won’t spend time rehashing the hows and whys of Saturday night’s dramatic finish; what’s done is done, and ASU is now 2-0 heading this week’s critical showdown with No. 5 Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.
Instead, it is important to focus on areas of improvement for the Sun Devils as they prepare to face the Cardinal. Coach David Shaw’s team improved to 2-0 with a 34-20 win at Army on Saturday.
Eliminate crucial mistakes. ASU had numerous miscues against the Badgers—enough to have lost the game. The Sun Devils failed on a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line on their opening possession and had a slew of dropped passes, which stalled drives and halted momentum for the offense. Sophomore WR Rick Smith dropped at least three balls by himself. And punter Dom Vizzare misplayed an errant snap, resulting in a Wisconsin TD and giving the Badgers a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.
Keep the opponent from breaking big runs. Going back to last season, ASU has had a propensity for giving up big gains on the ground. The storyline was much the same versus the Badgers. On the first play of the second half, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon took a fly sweep 80 yards for a touchdown. He also had a 35-yard run late in the third quarter, which resulted in a field goal that put the Badgers back on top with 13:30 left on the clock.
Use all the weapons at your disposal. Against Wisconsin, the Sun Devil offense showed why it has gained national attention in the early stages of the 2013 season. RB Marion Grice had another productive outing, rushing for 84 yards and four touchdowns. He now has 12 total touchdowns (10 rushing, two receiving) in his last five games and 25 career touchdowns in his first 15 games wearing the Maroon and Gold. Newcomer Jaelen Strong also had an impressive fourth quarter at the wide receiver position, making several acrobatic sideline grabs to sustain ASU drives.
This week, however, ASU will need to put all of its firepower to use against a stingy Cardinal defense. Stanford had the conference’s best defense in 2012, and they return 10 of their 11 starters from last season.
We’d like to see more rushing opportunities for D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis—perhaps even some multi-back sets. Lewis, in particular, has the potential for big plays once he finds running room.