Most Arizona State fans will probably sum up Saturday’s game with Utah the same way offensive lineman Jamil Douglas did: “That is the very definition of escaping.”
ASU did, in fact, escape in Salt Lake City against the Utes. Its offense was stymied for most of the game and its defense gave up plays at the absolute worst times. However, the Sun Devils did rally and pull out a hard-fought victory.
First, offensively, ASU fans should be a little concerned about Jaelen Strong. He was pretty much a non-factor on Saturday. He wasn’t targeted very often, and when he was, it was ineffective. Strong also dropped a long pass that may have scored a TD in the third quarter. To be fair, he did draw a big pass interference call that helped spark the ASU comeback. But he still looks gimpy and his size and skill advantage has been neutralized for the time being. Hopefully, the promising juco transfer will heal up and be the weapon he has been all year.
ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly had one of the poorer games of his career. His accuracy throwing the ball was sub-par for him. And he made at least four wrong decisions on the zone read play that allowed the Utah defense to gobble up Marion Grice. However, like several other key Sun Devil players, Kelly made plays when he had to down the stretch. He deserves his fair share of credit.
The truth is that the ASU offense had a rough day. They struggled to deal with Utah’s tough front seven. The Utes played inspired and desperate football and it showed in the box score and statistics. But winning teams find a way to win. They make plays when they absolutely have to. Sometimes, a day like this is a blessing more than it is cause for concern. Making adjustments and digging down to produce a victory are the traits of champions.
Obviously, the ASU offensive staff and players will go back and try to figure out what went wrong. But they should quietly take pride in their ability to “figure out a way” to win.
The same goes for the Sun Devil defense, which actually played a decent game. They gave up one legitimate long drive and one legitimate long play. That’s it. They shut the door on the Utah offense several times. And again, as mentioned above, Will Sutton and Co. made plays when it was absolutely necessary. They were on the field a long time and had short fields to defend.
The only real hit on the defense might be their contain on the pass rush. Utah QB Travis Wilson is not the typical running threat as a quarterback, yet he tucked it and ran four times in the first half to hurt ASU. On any pass rush, the defense has to stay closely within their “lanes” so as not to let one open up for the QB. Essentially, the rushers want to collapse the pocket and give the QB nowhere to run. This is easily correctable, as seen in the second half of Saturday’s game.
So, ASU fans will take this gritty victory. There is nothing to panic about; Utah is tough at home. And sometimes you just have to win ugly. It happens in sports. It’s similar to a basketball team that does everything right, but has a bad night shooting the ball. There’s nothing to do but gut it out and live to fight another day. Winning teams do that.
Arizona State has a lot of momentum right now and is on the verge of doing something special. Head coach Todd Graham will most assuredly correct the mistakes and keep the players hungry. They’ll need to stay focused because Oregon State comes to town with bowling on their minds and a potent offense. Plus, the Beavers had a bye last week and will have a pretty good plan along with rested players for Saturday’s game in Tempe.