Arizona State’s victory in Pullman was bigger than most people might think. Believe it or not, all the talk about road woes, marquee TV performances, cold weather, etc. is heard by the players. The Sun Devils had some pressure put on them for this game. And they overcame that pressure and delivered. They were sharp in all phases of the game and took care of business.
The ASU offense is in a pretty good rhythm right now, scoring 50 plus points for the third straight game. The offensive line is giving QB Taylor Kelly time to make his reads and deliver the ball. The receivers are making plays. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is doing a great job of preparing his squad properly for their opponent.
The Sun Devil defense also appears to be peaking at the right time of the season. Its “nickel” package flustered Washington State QB Connor Halliday most of the night. The defense as a whole, shut down the Washington State running game (although rushing the ball is not the Cougars’ strong suit). Still, the ASU front seven got after Halliday with sacks and hurries. The Sun Devils’ defensive domination early in the game provided great field position for ASU, which it turned into touchdowns.
So, let’s get the weekly nit picking out of the way. It’s a pleasant trend for Arizona State fans, because pointing out miscues in a 34-point road victory is the very definition of nit picking.
Some things to improve on:
Fumbles. The ASU running backs (Grice and Lewis) put two balls on the carpet Thursday night. While the Grice fumble was recovered by ASU, fumbles are unacceptable. This is something that cannot be overlooked and I’m sure coach Todd Graham and his staff is taking appropriate action.
Taylor Kelly made a poor decision on the run and threw an interception. This was one of those risky passes that a lot of quarterbacks make while rolling out and throwing back inside. It’s so tempting because players look like they are wide open. What Kelly must remember is that when rolling out, the field shrinks. The defense converges and jumps routes. Kelly knows better and I’m sure he knew it when the ball left his hand. I’m certain that the coaching staff let him hear about it as well. Again, this particular interception didn’t sink ASU, but a similar mistake down the road could cost them a shot at a championship.
For two games in a row, the ASU defense has let a slant route got for a touchdown. A slant route is not necessarily defined as a home run play. It’s typically a short gainer for 6-12 yards. But the angle taken by the safety was poor and it allowed the Cougar receiver to take it to the house ala Jerry Rice. This also happened a couple of weeks ago on the first drive of the second half against Washington. It’s a problem that must be fixed. ASU safeties and even the outside linebackers have got to read the slant route and take the proper angles to make the tackle. I can guarantee that Utah will test the Sun Devil defense with slant routes to see if they have made the proper adjustments.
But, again, overall, ASU had a great effort at Washington State. The Sun Devil faithful should be proud that this team showed up focused and prepared. It’s a sign of maturity to take every game and every opponent seriously. Hopefully, the Devils did more than just win a contest on the road, on a cold field, in a Thursday night game on ESPN. Let’s hope they realize that every week is a season — and that every opponent can humble you. I’m banking that ASU has learned this lesson well.