In a crucial game for their bowl eligibility hopes, the Arizona State Sun Devils were unable to hold an early lead, eventually falling 38-24 to the Washington State Cougars on Saturday. The Sun Devils now sit at 4-5 heading into next weekend's homecoming game against Washington.
Here are my takeaways from the loss:
1. Offense takes a big step back: Seven minutes into this one, it looked as if the maroon and gold were picking up right where they left off nine days ago against Oregon. The score was 14-0, the double-headed monster of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage were getting big chunks of yards on every carry, and Mike Bercovici looked as sharp as ever. It would not last for long.
The offense quickly lost momentum, turning the ball over on downs on its next possession. The line struggled badly at times, and the play-calling became more and more conservative as the game progressed. Only one more touchdown was scored the rest of the afternoon, and Arizona State left Pullman with a two possession loss in a game that started out so promising. After dropping 55 on the Ducks, this was definitely a case of "one step forward, two steps back".
2. Defense fails when needed most: All week long, the main question surrounding this game was how would Todd Graham's defense perform against an air raid offense. The answer? Not well.
The secondary played soft coverage all day, then blew easy tackles which resulted in some insane yards after catch numbers. Simple matchups on third-and-short situations were missed.
Luke Falk threw for five touchdowns and nearly 500 yards. It was a complete failure from top to bottom, and serious changes will need to be made if this team is to make a bowl game.
3. Another lead blown late: For the third straight game, the Sun Devils held a lead in the fourth quarter of a pivotal Pac-12 contest. And for the third straight game, they found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline once the clock hit triple zeros.
While late losses have not necessarily been a staple of the Graham era, this is becoming a disturbing trend. The team seems to be tiring and wearing down as games enter their final minutes, which could very well be a byproduct of poor conditioning. The bottom line, however, is that everyone needs to execute better, starting with the leaders of the offense and defense.
4. Another week, another officiating controversy: While the maroon and gold stumbled all across the board in the second half, there is no denying that this game turned on another questionable call by Pac-12 officials. Leading 14-3 halfway through the second quarter, it appeared as if Arizona State had gotten a crucial fourth down stop deep in their own territory.
The play, however, was ruled a no-play because of an inadvertent whistle (which actually was a legitimate whistle, as forward progress appeared to have been stopped), and the Cougars scored a touchdown on the very next play.
5. Sign stealing not an issue, until Leach makes it one: The topic of sign stealing dominated headlines this week, but the issue actually went undiscussed on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. It actually wouldn't have been talked about at all, until Washington State head coach Mike Leach dropped a nice one-liner after the game.
"The first half we stole a bunch of their signals and those helped us a bunch in the second half."