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Arizona State Sun Devils

Biggest improvement areas for Arizona State after Week One

Arizona State played one of the weirdest games in its first week against Southern Utah.

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The Sun Devils ended up only beating the Thunderbirds 24-21 after an almost three hour weather delay during halftime.

It was a tale of two halves for the Sun Devils after they led to 21-7 after the first. Overall, the game was so strange that it was hard to judge.

Let’s take a look at some areas where the Sun Devils need to improve:


ASU only had one penalty in the first half, but finished with nine.

We saw this several times in fall camp. Some days, Arizona State looked flawless, while others were extremely sloppy. This is exactly what happened in each of the halves against Southern Utah.

One third of the penalties came on one drive. After Elijhah Badger took a kickoff 81 yards and ASU had the ball at the SUU six, they followed the big return with a four-play, negative 14-yard drive that resulted in a field goal to put ASU up 24-14 with 13:41 remaining. The possession feature three holding penalties, two at the very beginning and one on the fourth down.

Can the Sun Devils learn how to limit these penalties?

Offensive line

While ASU’s playmakers helped Jaden Rashada settle into his first collegiate game, the offensive line did not.

Running backs Cameron Skattebo and DeCarlos Brooks also had to create a lot of runs for themselves and did a very good job of it.

How does the offensive line bounce back after a poor performance?

Sacks and forcing turnovers

Against an FCS opponent, ASU failed to impose its will.

The Sun Devils had 0 sacks the entire game and no forced turnovers. They only had three tackles for loss in the entire game. This should not have been the case against an FCS team.

With defensive coordinator Brian Ward’s new system, I thought ASU would generate a lot of pressure all game, but this was not the case.

Can the Sun Devils figure out how to get more pressure next week?

Limiting big plays

The Sun Devils’ defense allowed one big play that almost cost them the game.

Southern Utah QB Jordan Miller found WR Isaiah Wooden for a 52-yard gain down to the ASU 12. He then connected with WR Zach Miller for a 17-yard touchdown to make the score 21-14 ASU with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.

However, the Sun Devils caught a break when a 68-yard pass was called all the way back due to targeting earlier in the third quarter.

The unique thing about these big plays is that they weren’t long throws, they were big catch-and-runs, signaling that ASU needs to be better at tackling in the open field.

Defensive line rotation

Anthoine Cooper and C.J. Fite were injured and out for Week One. Defensive end Clayton Smith was  ejected on the third drive of the game for targeting, so the Sun Devils were extremely weakened on the defensive line.

It’s hard to judge the defensive line that’s facing all these injuries, but they need to find a rotation that can generate more pressure.


As mentioned in the above points, Arizona State needs to be able to be more consistent. The did show consistency in the first half, but were unable to get any rhythm going in the second half.

The negative drive after  the Elijhah Badger kickoff return highlights this point the most.

Responding to adversity

“A rain delay is one of the smallest circumstances you’re going to face in a football game,” ASU coach kenny Dillingham said postgame. “There’s going to be a game you’re down 21. It’s a lot worse than having a rain delay. We got to learn how to respond. When we lost the momentum, or didn’t keep the momentum, how do we respond to that?”

Dillingham is  100% correct. However, I think the rain played a big factor to the sloppy second half. It seemed like ASU’s game plan for the Thunderbirds was to beat them with tbig plays, but they were severely limited without the rain.

The Sun Devils have dealt with perhaps the most adversity in the country this past month and came out strong in the midst of it. However, it was the in-game adversity that ended up getting to them.

This was a good test to see how ASU  responds, and they can learn from this and move forward.

My overall thoughts on the game

Even though ASU only beat an FCS team by three, there were a lot of positives for the Sun Devils to take away from this game.

The main one was play of Jaden Rashada, as he came out on fire in the first half. He did not have that good of a second half, but only had one pass that was almost intercepted. For a freshman, he made very little mistakes and he showed his poise on the last drive to run out the clock.

Some other positive areas include the entire offense besides the offensive line and the play of the secondary.

The offensive and defensive lines both need to step up significantly for FBS play.

The Sun Devils should not just forget about this game and move on because of how weird it was.

They had a great half performance, and there were a lot of teaching moments. To get all of this out in Week One and still get a victory it huge.

Whether or not the Sun Devils actually learn from the second half remains to be seen.

Early thoughts for Week Two

Oklahoma State had a similar game to Arizona State in their Week One matchup today against Central Arkansas, which the Cowboys ended up winning 27-13.

However, unlike ASU, Oklahoma State did not decide its starter before the game and rolled with three quarterbacks.

Fans weren’t happy with the Cowboys performance today.

They also had offensive line problems. Can the Sun Devils’ defensive front can generate some more pressure next week?

Clayton Smith will be back for the Sun Devils, and we will see if any of the injured players return on the defensive line.

Overall, I think next week could be another sloppy game by both teams, but ASU has a better chance of building momentum and trying to replicate its strong first half against Southern Utah.

ASU defeats Southern Utah 24-21 in season opener

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Brendan Mau is a Phoenix Suns insider and college sports reporter for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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