(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Anybody who pays attention to Arizona State’s football program understands the team’s mentality and philosophy.
The team wants to go “1-0” in everything it does whether it be a single play, a day of practice or within the actual framework of the weekend’s game. Its players will repeat that ad nauseam. They’ll also continue to remind anyone who will listen about the brotherhood they’ve established among themselves.
Those things were never in question. The questions rather circulated ASU’s lack of identity at length over the last month, and a 2-2 record compiled with inconsistent play in four games didn’t relieve any pressure either.
But winning, and winning handedly, does wonders regarding the vibes among and around a sports team, and that’s exactly what is happening for head coach Todd Graham and his program.
Plenty of stock was being put into ASU’s tilt with Colorado following the Sun Devils’ win over UCLA a week ago. A win over the Buffaloes would mean ASU could essentially regain control of its destiny in the Pac-12 South. A loss would mean ASU’s season was as inconsistent and disappointing as many were ready to deem it to be.
Some of those concerns were – admittedly – over reactionary, but some of them were not. Due to a mixture of last second coaching changes, injuries and overall lack of experience, ASU’s offense was sputtering. Through its first four games, ASU was scoring just 25 points per contest and looked to be missing Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong a lot more than people may have anticipated. The worst of times came in the red zone and on third down where ASU would shoot itself in the foot with miscues, dropped passes or questionable play calls.
However, the return of sophomore running back Kalen Ballage and the overall breakout performances from sophomore running back Demario Richard provided a boost and stability to the unit. No matter what beat redshirt quarterback Mike Bercovici was on that day, the Sun Devils could move the ball on the ground.
And against UCLA and Colorado, the Sun Devils looked every bit the offensive machine it had been under Mike Norvell the last three seasons.
Bercovici slung the ball all over the field against the Buffaloes, and while Colorado isn’t nearly the best defense ASU will see the rest of the way, it does have the Pac-12 talent that Cal Poly and New Mexico did not despite ASU struggling against those two sides.
Arguably, Bercovici had two of his best throws of the season over the last two weeks. An inside slant to senior D.J. Foster for an 11-yard touchdown against UCLA showed off Bercovici’s usual arm strength but also showed a progression of accuracy, placing the ball where Foster had his best chance to beat the cornerback. The second throw came against Colorado when the fifth-year quarterback dropped a dime into the hands of redshirt junior Tim White for a 38-yard touchdown against Colorado.
Nobody is questioning Bercovici’s role as the outright vocal leader and face of the team, but he did look far off the form that he showed in his three starts from last season while Taylor Kelly nursed his foot injury. To his credit and sometimes to the chagrin of fans and reporters, Bercovici never wavered in his public display of confidence in himself and his team, and the team that he so strongly believes in seems to be coming alive on the field.
Looking at the numbers, ASU has looked relatively consistent, but actually watching the game, it is clear that the last two games for the Sun Devils have been their best. The biggest numbers difference is the most important: ASU scored its highest point-totals against UCLA and Colorado.
Amidst all the up-and-down that the Sun Devils have gone through in the first half of the season, the defense has been relatively consistent from week-to-week. The big plays are becoming fewer and fewer, and the unit ranks in the top-5 in the country in tackles for loss. ASU’s run defense has been stellar as well, stopping the likes of UCLA’s Paul Perkins and USC’s trio of talented tailbacks.
So what exactly does this all mean?
I have no idea.
But I do know the Sun Devils are 4-2 even with all the roller coaster moments in the season, and more importantly, they are 2-1 in Pac-12 play. To go along with that, the offense is flowing, and the defense is flying around in ways that have become Graham’s signature.
ASU revived its season with its win over UCLA, and it made sure that it didn’t lose that momentum by taking care of business against Colorado.
The Sun Devils are now tasked with another road game against a top-10 opponent in No. 5 Utah. Salt Lake City is notoriously difficult to play in, and mix in the cold enviornment, and the Sun Devils have the cards stacked against them before looking at the actual matchup.
With that in mind, ASU is in the best position it could be in considering the aura and level of devastation following its 42-14 loss to USC, and so once again, as always, Todd Graham and his team will look to go 1-0 when Saturday rolls around.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com