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Leading up to Saturday night’s kickoff in Corvallis, everything seemed to be falling into place for the Beavers. On a cold, late November night, the Sun Devils were on the road in Corvallis for the third consecutive year. Historically, the Sun Devils have struggled on the road against Oregon State late in the season, and Saturday was no different.
The Arizona State Sun Devils had their most lackluster offensive performance of the year against the Beavers, as the adversity proved to be too much to overcome.
“No consistency in our offense, and that’s what you need,” Edwards said. “You have to move the ball. You can’t stall out and go three, four plays.”
Leading into the game, it had already been announced by the Beavers they’d be celebrating the 2001 Pac-10 Championship team. Along with honoring the team, former head coach Dennis Erickson, who landed himself a gig with the Sun Devils in 2007, would also be honored at the event. It was an odd, full-circle type of situation, as the Sun Devils’ lack of discipline has been compared to the penalty-heavy teams of both the Dirk Koetter and Erickson eras.
The impending sense of doom continued to descend on the program. Thursday, a car accident took place in the parking lot after practice, sending one player to the hospital for stiches. Five Sun Devils were ruled out for the game; Most notably, senior tight end and this season’s leading receiver Curtis Hodges. His absence further complicated the offensive production issues, as the receiving core has yet to have anyone step up as “that guy.”
A few hours before kickoff, the Sun Devils announced they would also be without top player Darien Butler following a physical game against Washington last week. His absence was felt in Oregon State’s 47-yard touchdown run from Jack Colletto.
Arizona State also inevitably learned its Rose Bowl fate had been sealed, shortly before kickoff. Utah closed in on the Pac-12 South with a dominant win over Oregon, crushing ASU’s hopes and motivation before even taking the field.
After hearing the news of their postseason goals officially slipping out of reach, things couldn’t have been easy emotionally. The Sun Devil squad, already put to the test mentally in a challenging road game with a depleted roster, seemingly lost the final driving factor motivating them to chase success on the gridiron. In yet another crushing Corvallis loss, the Sun Devils had their worst offensive performance of the year.
Inability to generate offensive yards
It was Arizona State’s worst offensive output of the year as the Sun Devils struggled to move the ball. A banged-up receiving core, compounded by Jayden Daniels’ ongoing struggles to find his stride, was destined to impact the passing game throughout the season. Where things went sideways, though, was on the ground, as the normally dynamic rushing game hit a wall.
“We just fall down too many times offensively when you looked at it from [Oregon State’s] point,” Edwards said. “You can’t fall down and go two or three possessions and not move the ball. That’s very difficult.”
In the previous two games against USC and Washington, running back Rachaad White racked up more than 200 offensive yards in each performance. Against Oregon State, things were a bit different for Arizona State. The Sun Devils were only able to put up 266 total offensive yards, a stark contrast from weeks past.
We’ve stated previously how White’s performance helped to hide the ongoing offensive issues the Sun Devils have been having all season, highlighted in last week’s win over Washington. White accounted for 237 of the Sun Devils’ 376 total offensive yards against the Huskies, putting a target on his back against one of the top run defenses in the conference.
Efficiency was an issue for the Sun Devils, converting on only four of their 11 third down attempts. They also were unsuccessful in the lone fourth down attempt.
Much of ASU’s offensive issues throughout the year have stemmed from communication problems with the offensive line. Despite being veteran players, there’s been a visible disconnect between the linemen. False starts and holding calls consistently put the Sun Devils in situations where they’re forced to work out of a hole.
Without Shannon Foreman and Henry Hattis for the second consecutive week, Corey Stephens and Spencer Lovell started in their places once again. It was a tumultuous performance for the line, as they had seven false starts in the game.
Compounding the issues, a number of flags were back-to-back, or in critical situations eliminating the opportunity to be efficient by extending the field.
Another Sun Devils game with double-digit penalties
Penalties have been a clear problem since the start of the season, too, and things were no different against Oregon State. When Arizona State opened things up with 13 flags for 135 yards out of the gate. Since then, things haven’t gotten much better. The Sun Devils are one of the most heavily penalized teams in the FBS. With one week remaining, the Sun Devils are only three spots out from dead-last with 98 flags for 874 yards.
“We practiced it and talked about it and they know it, and for some reason, they still find a way to move, and you can’t move,” Edwards said.
Arizona State had double-digit penalties in three of their four losses this season, with the exception being Washington State. Against BYU, the Sun Devils had 16 penalties. They followed it up with 13 in the loss to Utah and 10 against Oregon State.
“It’s amazing to me because when you look at Washington, they did the same thing, you know, they shift, and it wasn’t really a factor,” Edwards said. “All of the sudden, we get here and it becomes a factor again.”
Spotting a team that many extra yards in a game is deadly, and the Beavers did an excellent job of capitalizing on the opportunities at hand. Edwards’ said multiple times they cannot expect to win when spotting a team more than half a football field’s worth of yardage. While Arizona State has been able to squeeze out the win in a couple situations despite handing over so many free yards to opponents, it’s was only a matter of time until the issue reared its ugly head once again.
Like the flags, the Sun Devils have also had issues with special teams this year. Turnovers and missed points have been another recurring theme.
Sloppy special teams plays
The opening kickoff return for Arizona State was almost a precursor as to how the game would unravel. After taking the ball out of the end zone, the Sun Devils nearly fumbled it away when it popped out before the whistle was blown, bringing a pit to the stomach of all Arizona State fans watching.
It’s not the first time this season the Sun Devils have had issues on the opening kickoff of the game. It was, however, one of the first times Arizona State was able to evade a turnover this season after losing the ball. While the carelessness on the play was an issue, the bigger problem with special teams boils down to the kickers.
”We had to settle for a couple field goals,” Edwards said. “One was a long one, the other was…[Cristian Zendejas] is capable of making that.”
Arizona State fans have been spoiled in recent years with strong special teams players like Zane Gonzales, who could knock them down from 50 yards out easily. Unfortunately, the Sun Devils haven’t been so lucky this year when it comes to finding the right kicker.
Arizona State had two missed field goals on the night. Not only did they leave six points off the board, but it aided in the momentum shift inside Reser Stadium.
In the offseason, major improvements by the kickers are going to be something to keep an eye on. Kickers can make or break a game, and with the number of close games in recent years, it’s a less than comforting thought.
Final thoughts: The push towards the finish
One of the biggest storylines throughout the season has been the news of the NCAA investigation into the program for recruiting violations. Questions continue to spiral surrounding the future of the coaching staff and the possible implications from the allegations.
On top of the allegations, the fanbase has been growing impatient awaiting athletic director Ray Anderson’s vision of being a perennial top-10 program to come to fruition. With Arizona State’s inability to rise to preseason expectations, fans have been calling for both Edwards and Anderson to go.
Leading up to the final game of the game against Arizona, the best-case scenario is for the Sun Devils to end the season with an 8-4 record. It’s not clear if it will be enough to save Edwards’ job, but there’s always the possibility of waking up to the beginning of a new head coaching search.