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ASU Football: Strengths become weaknesses in Sun Devils’ loss to Arizona

(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)

The Arizona State Sun Devils scored a touchdown on their first drive of the second half, cutting Arizona’s early 28-14 lead down to just a touchdown.

After redshirt junior running back Zach Green found the end zone for the second time on the night, the Wildcats again led by two touchdowns in the third quarter. Samajie Grant then scored his second of three touchdowns on the evening – the third Wildcat to rush for at least two touchdowns in the contest – and at that point, any hope of a comeback for ASU had dissipated.

Almost faster than the team’s 5-1 record.

Arizona State (5-7) dropped its sixth-straight game to end the season in Tucson on Friday night – a 56-35 blowout at the hands of in-state rival Arizona (3-9). The defeat marks just the second time in head coach Todd Graham’s five-year career as head coach that the Sun Devils have lost the Territorial Cup.

The overall mark of 5-7 is tied for the worst record in Todd Graham’s coaching career.

“It has been disappointing for us,” redshirt senior Tim White said. “No doubt that we put in work in the off-season and we felt we were going to have a great season and it didn’t work out for us. The young guys are going to be back at it. They’re going to get at it and change it up.”

On both sides of the ball, Arizona State’s strong suits progressed to became its weaknesses as the season went on. Through the first four games of the year, the Sun Devils both ran the ball and stopped the run with efficiency before the well-documented injuries started to set in.

Tonight at Arizona Stadium, that efficiency was nowhere to be found.

The run defense allowed 511 rushing yards on 48 attempts – a school record – and seven touchdowns. The trio of Brandon Dawkins, Zach Green and Samajie Grant ran with regularity and continued to take the top off of the defense, each posting runs of 71, 56 and 63 yards respectively.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez elected to throw the ball just eight times in the game, but not once in the second half.

“It [the running performance] reminded me some of the old days, when guys did a good job recognizing different blitzes,” Rodriguez said. “Our guys did a great job; our coaching staff did a great job. Samajie was phenomenal, in just a few weeks at running back, in particular on some outside zones. Zach Green has never run that far in his life, he was great, and Brandon Dawkins was terrific, of course a guy like him gives a whole different dimension.”

On the contrast, Arizona State’s running game was non-existent, a far cry from the role the running dimension of the offense had played early on.

Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage combined for 14 carries posting just 47 yards.

Quarterback Manny Wilkins picked up the slack, carrying the ball 22 times for 77 yards. He also attempted 58 passes, completing 43 of those throws for three touchdowns while also adding an interception.

“It’s always going to be frustrating, especially losing to this team,” Wilkins said. “I give them credit, they played a great game. What it comes down to is not turning the football over and putting points on the board, so great game. I wish we could have got this one for the seniors, but it’s the end of an era for them and the beginning of a new future for [the younger guys]. Next year, we’re going to come out and get things rolling.”

For Graham, he won’t be waiting until next year to start looking for solutions – that process got underway “as soon as he got on the bus.”

“We started off 5-1, and then to lose six straight, it’s a first time for me,” Graham said. “We’ve obviously had a lot of adversity and a lot of challenges but that’s football and that’s life, but I’m pretty motivated to go to work and get this thing back to where it needs to be.”

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