The Arizona Sun Devils were involved in some serious #Pac12DarkAction Saturday night, falling to the California Golden Bears 48-46 in Berkeley. The loss drops ASU to a disappointing final record of 6-6, here are my takeaways from the defeat.
1. If it's broken, why fix it: Perhaps the most disappointing part of this season is the fact that the issues that plagued ASU against Texas A&M plagued ASU against Cal. ASU could not contain Cal's passing game and missed numerous tackles. The Sun Devils allowed Cal to score touchdowns on its final six drives, mostly with ease.
ASU's fundamental defensive issues was this: They did not have talented enough defensive linemen to get pressure rushing just four. So, they had to bring extra rushers in order to pressure and disrupt the quarterback. However, by blitzing they left their secondary in one-on-one situations and against Pac-12 teams this resulted in numerous yards allowed after the catch and long touchdowns through the air (see Washington State, Arizona and Cal).
What's also frustrating is that Todd Graham and the defensive staff saw Jared Goff lighting up the secondary in the second half and did nothing different. He kept blitzing and ASU kept getting burned.
2. ASU is suited to run a pro-style on offense: Did anybody else notice how much success ASU had throwing the ball down the field and running the ball up the middle in the last two games? ASU looked more like Stanford the past two weeks than the traditional ASU offense we are used to seeing. Throughout most of the season, ASU struggled to find consistency on offense, well their best two performances of the season came when they went back to doing what they did best.
ASU ran the ball with Demario Richard and (an injured) Kalen Ballage up the middle, behind three senior interior offensive linemen. ASU also took more shots down the field against Cal than they had perhaps the entire season. Devin Lucien followed up his impressive performance against Arizona with eight catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns Saturday night against Cal.
3. Beating Arizona isn't enough: There was a lot of chatter on social media about how important beating Arizona is and if ASU beats Arizona, it does not matter what their record is. Todd Graham said the victory counts for five victories. Clearly, it is not enough to just beat Arizona as here are some of the tweets we received Saturday night (Warning: NSFW).
@HouseOfSparky they exposed Graham's stubbornness, not the team. Constantly leaving young DBs on island against an experienced 1st round QB— Chaz (@YouAreNoMan) November 29, 2015
@HouseOfSparky so make a damn adjustment Graham. Do your job.— Jody Bogoshian (@jbogoshian) November 29, 2015
@HouseOfSparky I'm sorry, but this was icing on the most disgusting cake I've ever eaten.— Daniel (@frksup) November 29, 2015
@HouseOfSparky SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. MOST DISAPPOINTING SEASON EVER. FUCK BOWL GAMES. THE KIDS DESERVE IT, COACHES DON'T.— Daniel (@frksup) November 29, 2015
Now, let's some some things straight. Todd Graham is not an embarrassment who somehow forgot to coach. When you look back at this season, ASU did not lose a single game to a team that finished with fewer than seven wins. And with the exception of the USC game, ASU was not embarrassed in a game. The Pac-12 is a really good conference and to expect ASU (or any other team) to go undefeated or finish with one loss in the conference is foolish.
However, clearly all those people forgot about ASU's Territorial Cup performance and how ASU dominated Arizona to reclaim the Cup. Clearly, if ASU goes 1-11 with that one win over Arizona it is a failed season. Heck, ASU went 6-6 with a win over Arizona and some are calling it a failed season.
4. ASU is likely staying home for bowl season: This does not mean they will not make it to a bowl game. The Sun Devils finished tied with Cal and Washington for seventh in the Pac-12 (4-5). The bowl that is tiered for the seventh place team is the Cactus Bowl, meaning the Phoenix-based bowl game would likely have its choice between the Huskies, Golden Bears and Sun Devils for their bowl game (Note: This is not set in stone, just likely).
Because of the fact that ASU will likely bring in the most ticket sales and a good hometown crowd, the Cactus Bowl is likely to choose the Sun Devils. Washington played in the bowl last year so they are likely out as bowls do not like to have repeat participants. It may come down to Cal and ASU and if that is the case I would expect ASU to play its bowl game at Chase Field against a mid-tier Big 12 team such as West Virginia, Texas Tech or Kansas State.
5. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong: This is more of a season takeaway than a game takeaway. Throughout Graham's first three seasons in Tempe, ASU was blessed with some overall good luck. They stayed relatively healthy, forced turnovers and took care of the ball and won close games.
This season, it was the opposite. ASU struggled to force turnovers, they held late leads against Utah, Oregon, Cal, and Washington State and lost all of those games. They just did not have good luck.
Don't get me wrong, in some instances they were just outcoached and outmanned. However, getting to 10 or 11 wins and winning divisions is a somewhat about getting the right bounces.
From Ballage's mono, Tim White's wrist, Demario Richard's knee, ASU did not field a fully healthy offense until midway through the season, after they had already lost three games. Bad luck did not sink ASU to 6-6, but it seemed as if some of the mojo that Graham captured in his first three seasons was missing in 2015.