There is a lot at stake in the coming weeks for Arizona State.
The perfect 4-0 record was not a credible reflection of these Sun Devils. They were far from perfect, and it showed against USC on Saturday. The record fell to 4-1 after a heavy defeat and ASU fell on its back (hard).
Will Arizona State get back up on feet or will it stay on its shell?
Every Sun Devil supporter knows what the road to recovery looks like.
Defense, tackling, Manny Wilkins’ leg.
The Trojans hadn’t looked particularly spectacular, to say the least, during the first month of competition. Thanks to tackling (or lack thereof) and blown coverages throughout the game, USC was finally able to launch its season.
ASU fans would like to think these issues could be resolved thanks to a defensive-minded like Todd Graham is. Remember, it might seem very far, but his defense was considered as the Pac-12 best during his early years in Tempe.
Now, it cannot put one foot in front of the other. Yielding big play after another.
Blitz? A huge hole opens up in the secondary. Only 4 pass-rushers? There is a blown coverage or a missed assignment. And this is not even accounting for the insane amount of missed tackles that kills any kind of effort, whether it comes from the linebackers or the defensive backs.
Every defensive player seems to be plagued by this issue... which leads to wonder what is the common denominator.
Todd Graham? Keith Patterson? The Notre Dame kiss of death after the showdown from a couple years ago? (credits to our friends of the Solid Verbal for putting this concept out there)
Tackling should not be this much of an issue to a team that practices tackling every day - like the Sun Devils do. But, for some reason, it is still causing headaches to ASU.
USC could not get their offense going in September. Against ASU, Sam Darnold was able to feast and led an offense that accumulated 523 yards and 41 points.
The redshirt freshman quarterback threw for 352 yards and 3 TDs. Justin Davis emerged from the darkness with 123 yards on 8.8 rush yards per carry. JuJu Smith-Schuster finally came back to life with 123 yards, 3 TDs and a ‘dab’ resulting of a blown coverage in the end-zone.
It feels like the talk about the need of defensive improvement is brought to the forefront every week, but still today, it fails to appear.
Recovery or crumble?
At this point, ASU can only hope to score more points than his opponents to win games. The work on the defense seems to come closer and closer to Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia end of construction : TBD.
The defense is bad. It’s alright as long as the offense keeps running on all its cylinders. The wins against Texas Tech & Cal are here to prove it (even if we need to take into account the awfulness of these defenses, too).
It definitely wasn’t the case in the Coliseum on Saturday.
The run game, ASU’s major strength, never worked and was ultimately held to an anemic 75 rush yards. Third-string running back Nick Ralston led the team with 46 yards and 1 TD, scored in garbage time. Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage could not run for more than 35 yards COMBINED.
Even worse, Manny Wilkins left the game with an knee injury and never came back on the field. Backup quarterback Brady White was thrown into the fire and could not do anything to change the course of a sinking ship.
This injury is not good news to ASU’s success. Not at all.
Manny Wilkins has been the centerpiece of the Sun Devils. Without him, Chip Lindsey’s offense is now challenged in a big way.
The sophomore impressed with his ability to run the show, combining a decent arm with dangerous legs. Brady White does not have that dual-threat capability, and if Manny Wilkins has to miss a significant period of time, it will become a problem.
Is Arizona State capable of recovering from a game that went wrong on all the aspects, or have the team started to irreversibly crumble in Los Angeles?
This portait does not shed a positive light.
It is indeed hard to fix within a week issues that have been crippling the Sun Devils game after game, season after season.
For those holding their breath over the fact that ASU might showcase a shutdown defense, just stop. For those hoping ASU might properly tackle, you are hurting yourself.
The wound gets deeper now with the total failure against USC and the loss of Manny Wilkins. Ultimately, it will come down to ajustements and handling adversity on both sides of the ball.
Chip Lindsey needs to ease Brady White into the starting job with schemes favoring his more traditional style of play. Todd Graham needs to find a way, any way, to fix these lingering coverage issues.
Without rapid signs of improvement, the wound might become fatal. And optimism is not Arizona State’s best asset.