(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils were beginning to look like a dominant defensive team, and the offense was just along for the ride. Three straight games allowing less than 100 rushing yards, allowing no more than 23 points for three consecutive weeks, and it was finally beginning to look like the blown coverages and missed tackles were in the past.
Until a 64-yard touchdown run.
“That hurt us big time,” head coach Todd Graham said. “Early in the game they’ve got a third and two and we just absolutely just, we hadn’t done that all year. Absolutely leave a guy completely uncovered on something we practice.”
Then a 39-yard touchdown catch.
“Just very poorly prepared,” Graham said. “We busted more coverages than we had all year.”
Then a 62-yard touchdown run.
“What killed us is we couldn’t tackle,” Graham said.
And finally a desperation heave on fourth down to tie the game up with 12 seconds remaining.
“Fourth and 12, or whatever it was, 11,” Graham said. “We got him dead rights in the back field, scrambles around, bounces off of us, and throws up a prayer, and one guy comes off his man. You gotta stay on your man.”
Just like that, the lingering questions in the first half of the season have come back to haunt Coach Todd Graham’s prideful defensive unit, and they did not come nicely.
“Probably the most critical errors in our tenure,” Graham said.
What made the errors so critical? Well the Sun Devil offense decided to have their best game of the year.
Redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici along with his sophomore duo of running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage led the offensive unit to 742 yards of total offense and despite questionable play-calling and execution down the stretch, Graham rightfully took the blame off the offenses shoulders.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I can’t fault anything that the offense did, they had 742 yards,” Graham said.
The lack of discipline and execution on the defensive side cracked the door open for Oregon to spoil offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s field day, but the special teams is what opened it completely.
“We gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown that was critical,” Graham said. “We miss a chip shot field goal that was critical. Obviously we had a 54 and a 51 (yard attempt) but those are ones you don’t always expect to hit.”
Leaving nine points on the board in the first half ended up being the difference in the game, and especially leaving one that was a 26-yard attempt is what makes this all the more difficult to swallow for ASU.
To say that only this defensive implosion is out of character for ASU would be an understatement, because the discipline in execution was equally as important as the discipline in penalty prevention.
Since arriving at ASU, Graham has turned this Sun Devil program into the cleanest in the conference in terms of penalties per game, and this time their nine penalties for 70 yards hurt them as much as anything. Two personal fouls in one drive including one on third down extended an Oregon drive which eventually resulted in a field goal.
“Lots of regrets in that game but the biggest thing is the penalties and those types of things,” Graham said. “That’s a reflection of our discipline and that can’t happen. Hitting somebody out of bounds… we’ve never had that many in a game.”
Uncharacteristic is the one takeaway from this game. Everything uncharacteristic in a typical game showed up, and everything we have come to expect from this Sun Devil team didn’t show up and held them back from what would have been a tremendous victory.
This team finally looked like they were going to show balance all across the board, and if you look on paper, they did.
Throw for 398, rush for 344, two 100-yard rushers, nine receivers with a catch, four receivers with at least 70 yards, 37 first downs, 14-23 on third down.
Five sacks, seven tackles for loss, one interception, six pass breakups.
The Sun Devils had every right to win this football game, yet the one thing they had zero issues with for the last three weeks is what comes back to bite them.
“There’s a whole bunch of plays that were the difference in the game but we just didn’t play very good defensively,” Graham said.