In a game that started out like most for ASU this year (scoring first in 8 of 9 games), and outscoring their opponents 111-27 in the first quarter, it was difficult to watch as key penalties, big plays and bad place kicking doomed the Sun Devils, losing to the Oregon State Beavers 36-26.
The return of Will Sutton was none more obvious than on the first drive when his sack created a fumble which was returned for a score by defensive end Junior Onyeali. Coach Graham referred to Sutton’s performance as ‘heroic’ as he didn’t expect him to play much more than a few series. But early success didn’t favor ASU in this game. Inopportune penalties, the kicking game and a defensive backfield that is quickly becoming a huge liability all were major factors in this 36-26 loss in Reser Stadium.
While Cameron Marshall moved into second place in touchdowns scored all-time at ASU, it was Taylor Kelly who led the team in rushing with 10 carries for 81 yards. When Kelly was able to get the ball to the receivers, they weren’t able to do much with the passes. Early season target Chris Coyle has all been forgotten of late, while running back Marion Grice continues to lead the RECEIVING core. This group of receivers for a lack of better words is average to marginal. Their receiving skills are lacking, their blocking is atrocious and none of them can do anything with the ball post catch. If any could hold a block (see Oregon Ducks) many of those awful swing passes this offense seems to run would be a lot more successful.
The only consistent positive from this team week after week has been punter Josh Hubner. His eight punts tonight for 378 yards, a 47.2 average with a long of 66 kept this ASU team in the game. The problem surely wasn’t the punting, but how many yards this team was allowing on both the punt and kick returns. Jon Mora getting his second game as the field goal kicker was only one for two as he made a 31 yarder but pulled a 37 yarder. This late in the season we’re all resolved to a dismal place kicking game.
Coach Graham in post game comments made a point in saying the Devils got their butts beat in all aspects of the game. He praised Coach Mike Riley and his team and it was obvious why this team was so highly ranked. He also made note to say the Sun Devils were beat by a better Oregon team and that losing a close game to UCLA last week was a still a bitter pill to swallow. The question thats being asked a lot, is still, how is this team different than last year when they went on that terrible slide. And Graham continues to say the mentality and drive of the players and around the program is different. But this still leaves the pool of reporters that cover ASU football shaking their heads. If you lose 5 in a row or 4 of 5 how and why should it matter how the players react or think about it? When all is said and done, if this ASU team finishes 6-6 and loses their bowl game they’ll finish with the same record as last year.
Coach Graham also confirmed that defensive end Junior Onyeali sat the majority of the second half due to his roughing the passer penalty. But he reemerged in the game due to the lack of depth this defensive unit possesses. Graham preaches ball security and discipline, but when you get put back into the game after the inability to control either one of these, it’s difficult to gain traction in that direction. The play calling of late has also been a little suspect. You’ve got great running backs, use them. To many three and outs won’t get you points or swing momentum and puts even more stress onto the defense which is already thin. After watching this Sun Devil team get beat with four big plays, it just reminds me of the serious lack of big play ability this team does not possess. But in your first year as head coach, you can only play the cards you’re given. A couple years down the road and this team still has big play issues? Then thats a Coach problem.
So after listening to Taylor Kelly, Cameron Marshall and Coach Graham in post game interviews talk how they’re not quitting, they just need to work harder and focus now on USC is wearing thin with me. Like I stated before, when you lose 4-5 in a row, it doesn’t matter how hard you’re trying or the effort you gave, you still lost. I’m a lot closer to this program than most fans, and I guarantee thats how they’re feeling. Up next, is USC in Los Angeles. A Lane Kiffin coached team that will have a serious burr under their saddle after losing to Arizona and then getting man handled by Oregon earlier today. This is an ASU team that needs to stop this skid and fast. Time is running out with only three games left.