ASU Football: Three things that must improve by next week

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 06: Eno Benjamin #3 of the Arizona State Sun Devils carries the ball in the first quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 6, 2018 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 06: Eno Benjamin #3 of the Arizona State Sun Devils carries the ball in the first quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 6, 2018 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

With six games left in the season, ASU football must look to correct these inconsistencies to help clinch a bowl berth.

Arizona State may be the most frustrated college football team in America. With how things have gone, it’s hard to blame them.

The Sun Devils have been caught in a world of “what ifs.” What if there weren’t so many three-and-outs against San Diego State and Colorado? What if they tackled better against Washington? Most notably, what if they scored two more touchdowns in each of their three road losses?

At this point, they won’t be able to take any of those back. The fact is that ASU is 3-3 (1-2 Pac-12) with six games to go in the regular season. There isn’t much time to salvage this season of transition.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Three of the Sun Devils’ next four games are at home, and despite the Colorado loss, they trail the top of the Pac-12 South by just 1.5 games.

The outlook isn’t optimal, but it doesn’t indicate the chances of success are dead. If ASU is going to improve down the stretch, they’ll need to key in on these three aspects.

Finding a Balanced Offense

It’s no secret that Eno Benjamin has been fantastic. After back-to-back weeks of under 30 yards rushing against Michigan State and San Diego State, the sophomore running back has posted over 100 yards the past three weeks, including a record-breaking 312 yard performance against Oregon State.

Both coach Herm Edwards and offensive coordinator Rob Likens have voiced their desire to continue running the ball and control time of possession. But will they switch things up enough?

Large comparisons were made between the performances of N’Keal Harry and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. in last week’s game. Shenault was the focal point of the Buffalo offense, recording 140 total yards and four touchdowns while Harry was limited to three catches for 62 yards and no scores.

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Due to double teams and increased attention, Harry hasn’t yet broken out like he did in 2017. At the same time, he hasn’t received designed plays like Shenault did in last week’s game.

In recent weeks, the Sun Devils have sought to improve their aerial attack by opening up play action throws. Some success came against Colorado, as Manny Wilkins hit Frank Darby for a 40-yard touchdown to open the third quarter.

If ASU has any hope of getting back in the Pac-12 South race, they’ll need to have a diverse offense. The weapons are there. It’s just a matter of finding them.

Better Run Defense and Tackling

Remember when ASU had the No. 1 run defense in the nation?

Those first two weeks feel like so long ago and for good reason. Since holding UTSA and Michigan State to 2 and 63 yards, respectively, the Sun Devils have conceded over 150 yards in each of their last four contests.

It seems like each week there’s a solid back to focus on and time after time that back burns them. The trend will have to change if ASU is to compete with opponents like Stanford and Oregon.

Granted, this is a young defense. Players like Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler have had to step up for ASU’s linebacker corps, and experience only lies in the secondary with Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams.

But the defense must figure out how to handle success better. In his bye-week press conference, defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales voiced concern for his defense after the offense scores, saying they must be more active to sustain momentum.

Granted, a series of consecutive three-and-outs from the offense don’t help. Each side has to help out the other, and the defense must hold their end of the bargain by limiting big plays and making efficient tackles.

Make the Plays that Count

Manny Wilkins has said this before – the plays that matter the most are the ones that may not seem important in the moment. Unfortunately, the Sun Devils have been on the wrong side of a lot of them.

Some plays that come to mind include Wilkins’ missed touchdown to Kyle Williams against Oregon State, Lucas getting beat by assignments against Colorado and Myles Gaskin running free from every tackle in the Washington game.

Plays like these decide winners in close football games. For ASU, the difference in three 7-point defeats has been their inability to convert them.

The big thing for this team is to remain confident in their abilities. It can be hard to remain focused when plays go wrong, but a mentally tough football team will be able to overcome them.

Next. ASU Football: Pac-12 against the spread for Week 7. dark

With future games likely to be just as close, we’ll see if the Sun Devils can flip their fortunes and cash in on these opportunities.