The Arizona St. Sun Devils did win handily Saturday night, but let's concede one crucial point: The Illinois Fighting Illini were an immensely inferior team offensively the moment they lost starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to injury. Reilly O'Toole did his best to keep Illinois's offense moving and complete over 70% of his passes, but the throws he made were of the routine variety: under four yards per pass attempt despite throwing only four incompletions. Illinois never tired anything daring, and the defense took advantage of O'Toole and Miles Osei all game with six sacks and three interceptions. This had the look of an overwhelmed squad.
That's a recipe for falling behind against Arizona State's offense. And if there's anything we've learned through two weeks, ASU's offense is one you don't want to be tasked with falling behind at any point ever.
The supposedly fierce Illinois front was gobbled alive to the tune of an 80% completion rate by ASU's quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and then Michael Eubank, and both managed to pick up additional yards on the ground. The run attack was equally methodical, with six running backs and quarterbacks (Kelly and Eubank rushed for a combined 60+ yards) each getting multiple reps on the ground and each of them piling up over four rushing yards per carry. If an offense is that efficient and that deep personnel-wise, they are going to be hard to stop.
ASU didn't beat a great team (maybe not even a good one), but their performance was top-notch and workmanlike. That has to satisfy Sun Devil fans. Those type of performances barely seemed possible in the Dennis Erickson era.
Now Arizona State will have to prove that their offense can travel. A win in Columbia will put the Devils back in the top 25 discussion. Following that, ASU has a real good shot at being 6-0 heading for a desert showdown with the Ducks. The prospects are pretty exciting to consider, at least from a Pac-12 perspective.
First things first. This offense has proven it can trample the worst. Now it's time to show it can run with the best.
SB Nation Snippets
Under Dennis Erickson, ASU didn't use tight ends as receiving targets. The talent of Chris Coyle was wasted by Erickson and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Under coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, Coyle has become a focal point of the offense.
Coyle posted 101 yards and two touchdowns after just two quarters against the Illini. On the night, Coyle totaled 10 receptions, 131 yards and finished up with two touchdowns.
Coyle has impressed with his route running, and he seems to find his way open on nearly every snap. Quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank clearly trust Coyle and have entrusted the passing game in his care.
The biggest question heading into this game was how ASU's offensive line would hold up to the relentless Illini attack. They did much more than that.
They provided a great pocket for most of the night, allowing ASU to pass for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly and Eubank were able to stand tall and comfortable and go through their reads. On the ground, the line paved the way for an impressive 192 yards and a terrific 5.1 yards-per-carry against an Illinois team that held Western Michigan to -6 yards last week.