Should you consider the Arizona State football team as confident or overconfident, so far this season?
I would say both. Yes, both.
As crazy as it sounds, the Sun Devils have shown confidence and overconfidence at the same time. The tasteless win over UTSA on Friday night (32-28), for which they shouldn’t receive any honor, is the perfect example of this dangerous, bipolar situation.
It hasn’t yet, but it might come to bite them rather sooner than later.
To put things in perspective, UTSA has been fielding a Division I football team (2011) for practically as long as Todd Graham has been around in Tempe (2012). The Roadrunners are not a very good team, with all due respect, and the game should never have been this close.
But ultimately, it ended up being way too close to comfort.
UTSA led the game until the fourth quarter and the only Kalen Ballage touchdown of the game. A huge delta compared to last Saturday’s FBS-tying record of eight scores.
But it is now interesting, with the third win of the season in as much games, to look out how ASU barely escaped what could have been one of the worst losses in program history.
In crunch time, despite being led by an under-average C-USA team, the Sun Devils never seemed to panic. Moving the ball accoring to plan, with confidence.
The most notable moment? A 4th-and-1 with 8:40 to go and the Roadrunners up 28-25 on the scoreboard.
Todd Graham and the offense probably were going to go for it in the past, but on Friday night, they elected to punt. It might have been when they won the game.
ASU’s defense then forced a fourth consecutive 3-and-out, retook the field advantage and went on scoring the victorious touchdown with Kalen Ballage pounding the ball in the end-zone from the famous ‘Sparky’ formation.
Despite the awful performance, (let’s not beat about the bush, it truly was), ASU showed confidence.
It’s hard to pick out positives in a game like this one, but if there was one, it has to be confidence.
And N’Keal Harry. And Zane Gonzalez.
The true freshman wide receiver was the brightest spot for ASU within the darkness of the Alamodome. 5 receptions, 78 yards and a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy one-handed touchdown grab. A thing of beauty, representative of his spectacularly fast improvememt.
N’Keal Harry became the second Sun Devil ever to score a touchdown in each of his first 3 games as a true freshman. The first one was D.J. Foster.
But more importantly than this highlight reel, ASU couldn't have won last night without the leg of Zane Gonzalez.
The senior kicker booted between the uprights TWO 54-yard field goals, a 45-yard field goal and a 26-yard field goal to imitate the comeback.
He is the first Sun Devil in history to score two field goals from more than 50 yards in a single game. In the first half, he even became the Pac-12 career leading scorer (424).
These performances, whether it is a true freshman living his first months in college or a senior kicker getting closer to mark his name in the record books, are a clear sign of confidence.
But overconfidence is never really far.
It is not a good omen when a player, a team, or an university is loosing touch with reality.
Without a wake-up call in the closing minutes, overconfidence could have cost ASU more than just a loss. Instead, with a win on the way back to Arizona, the narrative is more centered about overcoming adversity and learning about a team that is still in (relative) construction.
It should not hide what really happened on the field.
Sloppy, inconsistent defensive series in which several players looked sluggish. Huge mistakes on special teams that cost ASU 14 points and nearly led the Devils to a loss. Red-zone inefficiency following the tremendous success on this same aspect against Texas Tech.
All these ensue from overconfidence.
ASU did not seem to be as well prepared as last week against the Red Raiders. Believing in an easy win for the first road game of the season is simply wrong. Talent does not answer everything, specifically in college football.
UTSA scored a 11-play, 75-yard touchdown in their opening series on offense. The Roadrunners did it again to start the second half, with a 5-play, 92-yard touchdown. Half of their points happened on the two drives ASU should have been the better prepared (and clearly wasn't).
The other half of UTSA points occurred following two costly ASU turnovers on special teams. Basically 14 points wrapped in paper and handed on a silver plate.
Kalen Ballage in the first half, followed by ‘Gump’ Hayes during the second act, both fumbled the ball on punt returns. Two incredibly bone-headed mistakes on their way to catch the ball. Not returning the ball, catching it.
These would have been avoided with concentration and awareness of the situation.
UTSA only had 14, then 24 yards to score a touchdown.
And as much as people want to criticize Todd Graham’s defense, it was definitely not the issue in San Antonio.
Except the two opening drives and the two series coming after the fumbles, the ASU defense held the Roadrunners to 107 yards, 10 drives of 5 or less plays, and no touchdown.
What is expected against this kind of competition.
This terrifying, nerve-wracking scenario was entirely avoidable if ASU had considered UTSA as a serious opponent. It did not and the Sun Devils were this close to become a national mockery.
(Not as much as ESPN2 broadcast crew, but that's another story.)
Non-conference schedule is now over. Pac-12 competition starts next Saturday in Sun Devil Stadium against California, and they better plan this game with seriousness.
If ASU does not prepare the Golden Bears accordingly, if the team does not learn from the recent mistakes, the game won't just be a scare.
It could likely end up as a bloodbath.