(Photo: ASU Athletics)
It was a near-consensus that Arizona State was gearing up for a get-well game in the comfortable confines of Sun Devil Stadium. Cal Poly didn’t get that memo and gave the Sun Devils all they could handle, but eventually ASU came out with a 35-21 victory over the FCS side.
ASU battled small mistakes and a myriad of injuries en route to the win, but the performance was far from reassuring.
The Sun Devils drew first blood after a nine-play, 77-yard drive that concluded with a 14-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici to senior receiver D.J. Foster. Foster extended his streak of consecutives games with a catch to 42 games.
Cal Poly would hang around in the first half, however, behind the efforts up the middle from fullbacks sophomore Joe Protheroe and redshirt sophomore Jared Mohamed. The two combined for 146 of Cal Poly’s 175 first half yards.
ASU found itself level with Cal Poly after the Mustangs opened the second half with a strong, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Chris Brown to redshirt sophomore tight end Reagan Enger.
After stagnant efforts and a missed 28-yard field goal attempt from the normally trustworthy junior Zane Gonzalez, the Sun Devils finally refound some form on offense. Bercovici found redshirt junior tight end Kody Kohl in the end zone. Kohl made a fantastic diving effort to put ASU ahead in the fourth quarter.
Player of the game: Demario Richard
Richard was a model of consistency for the Sun Devils. The sophomore rumbled his way into the endzone on two occasions, and he had another touchdown run called back after review. After rushing for 73 yards against TExas A&M, Richard tore Cal Poly for 121 yards in the game and two touchdowns.
Biggest concern: Injuries
The game turned into a war of attrition in a way. Several Sun Devils went down with injuries throughout the game including: redshirt junior running back De’Chavon Hayes, junior defensive tackle Ami Latu, sophomore safety Armand Perry and redshirt senior offensive tackle Billy McGehee. Each player is a critical starter for the Sun Devils, and in particular, Hayes provides depth to ASU’s already depleted backfield with Kalen Ballage still out with mono.
Redshirt freshman tackle Sam Jones played well in his first start, but losing this many players to injuries of varying degrees is never ideal.
Unsung hero: Christian Sam
Again getting the start at WILL, sophomore Christian Sam was a bright spot on a defense that was routinely gashed up the middle by the Mustangs’ triple-option attack. Sam led the Sun Devils with 11 tackles and two tackles for loss. He also did well to contain and chase down plays when Cal Poly bounced outside.
Sam will have to do more of the same when New Mexico, another triple-option offense, comes to Sun Devil Stadium.
Stat of the game: 205 yards from Protheroe and Mohamed
ASU had trouble containing Cal Poly’s efforts inside. After Latu went down with an injury early in the first half, the Sun Devils relied on redshirt senior Demetrius Cherry and sophomore Tashon Smallwood at the nose and Tiger spots. The two were routinely beat off the snap as the double-winged attack from the Mustangs chugged their way up the field.
ASU squares off against another triple-option attack when it hosts New Mexico in Sun Devil Stadium on a short week. The game takes places on Friday, September 18.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org