In observing the Arizona State victory over Washington on Saturday, one could not help being impressed with the Sun Devils. They were dominant on defense, taking Husky RB Bishop Sankey, the nation’s leading rusher, out of the equation. They pressured a quality quarterback in Keith Price to hurry and be ineffective. With 12 TFLs and seven sacks, the ASU defense had their best game of the year.
Offensively, the Sun Devils were on fire. They ran the ball well and passed effectively. They converted on third down and scored 53 points against a legitimate defense.
Time will tell what kind of a team Washington really is. But the conventional wisdom is that they are actually pretty good. They just flat out got beat by ASU. This Husky squad hung around with both Stanford and Oregon the previous two games. And when we say “hung around,” it means just that. They stood toe to toe with both of those opponents and were in a position to win late.
It’s possible that Washington was emotionally spent and could not get excited about playing ASU. Only the Huskies know if that’s true or not. But you cannot ignore the physical dominance displayed by the Sun Devils on both sides of the ball.
Some people will call it nit-picking, but even after a huge win, an analyst must report the areas for improvement he sees. The coaches and players are doing it in their film study, and so must we. To wit:
1) The kickoff team is giving up too many yards.
This is becoming a trend now. Obviously, it isn’t happening on every kickoff. But it’s happening too much, where the opposing team runs a kickoff back to midfield. To be fair, it seems that ASU is kicking off quite a bit this season (which is a good thing). And that means the law of averages suggests there will be some good returns in the mix. However, the coaches and players cannot accept the current situation.
2) The punt return team is playing with fire.
This has been a problem for more than a couple games, as well. There is confusion with the punt returners. They are letting punts go that they should catch, and they are trying to field punts they should let go.
Robert Nelson drew the ire of ASU coach Todd Graham by being too close to a couple of punts that he gave up on, and then pounced on as the ball was bouncing around. He was lucky. And all this goes without mentioning the fact that Nelson fumbled during one of his returns.
Punt return is not a difficult concept; fair catch short punts that you can get to and run away from the punts that you can’t get to. And by run away, I mean don’t get anywhere near the ball. This has to get fixed before it costs the Sun Devils dearly.
3) Lose the trick plays.
This is a “hindsight” observation. If they had worked, it would have been really fun to watch. But the two trick plays ASU tried went completely wrong. The staff would be better off using their time and energy to focus on just doing what they do. If anything, save the sneaky stuff for fake field goals and punts when the Sun Devils really need a gimmick. Other than that, let the offense be who they are.
4) The Red Zone offense still needs to improve.
ASU struggles to punch it in inside the 10 yard line. Now, the team is not alone in this endeavor. It’s difficult to score TDs on a short field. But if the Sun Devils want to be elite, they have to figure it out. They kicked four field goals when they were inside the eight yard line on Saturday — that’s 16 points left on the table. Again, this situation could mean the difference in games with upcoming opponents.
ASU might consider a couple things: First, it could eliminate the substitutions. As soon as Taylor Kelly and Co. gets down to the four yard line, just use the personnel on the field, line up immediately (like they usually do) and run a play. This would keep the opponent from subbing as well. Secondly, do just the opposite and have a ridiculous “jumbo package” come into the game. Like Stanford, use nine offensive linemen, a QB and a RB and just pound it in. A third option (an unlikely one, but still) is to have Michael Eubank spend the entire day working on Red Zone offense. In fact, he could spend the entire week doing that; scouting, filmwork and specialized plays for the Red Zone only. Anything to get more production in this area.
To close, we just saw a superb effort by ASU. The wide receivers are to be commended for stepping up when Jaelen Strong got injured. The offensive line was dominant. Kelly was excellent. The defense was dominating. This team was ready to play and it showed.
Sun Devil Nation should be proud and fired up to support this team the rest of the way.