(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
There is no better way to paraphrase the 2015 Sun Devil football team through football than the way it performed in the 48-46 loss to Cal.
Nearly everybody was on the ASU bandwagon coming into this season with so many returners on both sides of the ball, a unique defensive system under head coach Todd Graham, and the promise that redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici showed in his limited reps last season.
The No. 15 team in the preseason. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit had the Sun Devils as one of his College Football Playoff final four teams, and the hype ended up being only hype.
When ASU took the field against Cal, they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. A 24-3 lead around midway through the third quarter with plenty of contributions from everyone on the offense. They appeared as though they would use their strengths to wear down Cal, pounding the ball on the ground with sophomore running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.
Bercovici was 14-21 in the first half with three touchdowns, all to redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien. Then, their mistakes caught up to them, a lot like what happened when the season finally kicked off.
In the season opener against Texas A&M, the Sun Devil defense was exposed early by the Aggies’ freshman quarterback Kyler Murray as he opened the game up by running in circles around the field.
This loss was not the most concerning by any means, when the Sun Devils faced USC and were embarrassed 42-14, more of the same problems arose. Whether it was USC sophomore receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, or sophomore wide receiver/cornerback Adoree Jackson, they had a field day with the ASU defense. Missed tackle after missed tackle, big play after big play.
After ASU’s blazing hot start against Cal jumping out to a 24-3 lead, the big plays came for the Golden Bears.
A 52-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Bryce Treggs, a five-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Tre Watson bouncing off ASU defenders, a 58-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jared Goff to junior running back Khalfani Muhammad, and finally a 49-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Darius Powe.
Despite all this, the offense is still putting up steady numbers.
Bercovici finished 27-43 with 395 yards and four touchdowns, and Richard finished with 33 carries for 131 yards. Richard was a top-ten rusher in the conference, and had seven 100-yard rushing games on the year. His quarterback had quite the year as well, throwing for over 3,000 yards and placing himself in the top five in the Pac-12 in terms of passing.
They let teams they shouldn’t have hang around, and even beat UCLA where they were a major underdog. No matter what happened throughout the year, finding an all-around performance by the Sun Devils was hard to come by.
Stepping back from the discrepancy in the offensive and defensive performances against Cal, the performances by quarter say it all. ASU’s dream-like start to the game could not be carried over into the second half, much like how they couldn’t compile a solid performance on a game-to-game basis.
The Sun Devils outgained Cal in the first half 280-222. While Goff wasn’t sacked once in the half, he and Bercovici had nearly identical stats at halftime. Goff was 14-25 for 202 yards and one touchdown.
Where inconsistency comes into play is after the half, where ASU gave up 458 yards to Cal while gaining 404 on their own. After holding Goff to barely over 200 passing yards in the first half, the junior threw for 340 in the second half.
Now at the point of collapse. The Sun Devils have already lost all chances at achieving their goals, the preseason hype is now laughable, and the final three games mean nothing but whether or not you’ll play a bowl game in Boise or Albuquerque.
While ASU looked as if they would finish strong, playing two very complete games against Washington and Arizona, they blew a chance at a very good finale to the season against Cal. The game may be considered to many as a disappointment to many fans, a game that showed so much promise in the beginning, but lingering issues ended up making everything blow up in their faces.
Welcome to the 2015 Sun Devil football team.