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The RPO Column: Causality (Week 9)

One thing leads to another, and another, and another.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Oregon Cole Elsasser-USA TODAY Sports

Things aren't exactly progressing for the Arizona State Sun Devils at the moment. Not collectively, that's for sure.

We’re quick to point and look for reasons as to why ASU collapsed after starting the year off 5-1. The coaches, the talent, the injuries—these are all composed of the ingredients of this week’s dedication: causality.

Causality is defined as the relationship between cause and effect; the principle that everything has a cause.

Such is the case with the Sun Devils. Let’s start with the key culprit: injuries.

Ten starters have gone down due to injury. Ten. Keep in mind, there are 11 players that line up on one side of the ball in this sport.

It's unlucky, and the absences of these players has factored into the result of almost every game this year. That said, they have made way for other players to see the field; some seeing action much sooner than was intended despite lacking the experience.

This presents the next layer of causation: talent. When assessing who’s gone down for ASU in comparison to who’s available, it’s not necessarily shocking to see the output. This was a roster considered to be in the midst of a rebuild entering the year. Typically, that suggests the talent at the top of the team isn’t fully ready to compete with other teams in the conference, and if that’s true, the second-, third-team, etc. units aren’t expected to do so either.

Summarily, you are what you originally thought you were, but this takes us to the last topic of causation here: coaching.

The best coaches adapt to the personnel available to them. Not every coach is Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, or capable of hand-selecting the cream of the crop year-in, year-out to fully accommodate their systems.

The question is: How long does it take for players to feel comfortable in Todd Graham and Keith Patterson’s defensive schemes? Players I’ve spoken to this year have said it is a difficult, complex scheme to comprehend. Offensive players have shared similar sentiments. Is it too complex for new players to pick up on? Is it the reason the secondary—aside from injury—has been so out of sorts?

The preparation, or lack thereof, is what has to be the most frustrating thing for fans to sit through every week.

Being beaten by a good team is one thing; but being beaten and appearing unprepared this far into the season, mostly defensively, is confusing. It’s not wrong for the program to pride itself on heart, but Graham has also pushed a brand of football which focuses on dictating what opponents do on both sides of the ball.

Clearly, external factors—ones that are out of his or really anyone’s control—have worked to keep him from being able to implement his ideas. Regardless, in order to take the next step as a program, the ability to substitute players in and not have a complete drop-off in production, or at least try to simplify things for newcomers, needs to be displayed or adequately addressed.

Now, for your comments, questions and concerns following the loss at Oregon.

Reminder: Run (with what you’re saying) — Pass (on what you’re saying) — Option (out of it)

If I am going to speak honestly, the defensive scheme was deplorable. You can complain about injured players forever but when the scheme was bad not even starters make a marginal difference. For CTG to be a "defensive minded" head coach I am truly disappointed and still waiting for a good defense. Offense was alright all injuries considered. Dillon has the makings to be a good quarterback and Ballage is still a beast in the right package. (Logan Rhind via Facebook)

  • Run

It’s always something defensively for the Sun Devils. If they’re shutting down the run, they’re giving up the pa—well, they’re always giving that up, I guess. If they’re covering one area of the field, they’re giving up another. Always.

Injuries are obviously hurting the defense’s continuity, but the fact that we’re now entering Week 10. The backups have seen the field enough and been with the program long enough to presumably have at least a decent comprehension of the schemes. They're out of excuses really, unless we're going to concede that the depth on the roster isn't talented enough to keep up with the starting talent of other Pac-12 teams.

  • Run

There’s not much else to say. Every week, the tackling woes, mostly coming as a result of poor angles on the perimeter and arm tackling when defenders are facing up ball carriers, is still poor. It’s been significantly worse on the road, though I’m not sure there’s much correlation between making tackles at home or as a visitor, regardless of who’s playing.

I understand people are disappointed with the loss, especially since it's the same old story for the Devils. It is asinine in my opinion for "ASU fans" to ask for Graham to be fired. ASU was missing 8 starters today with a 9th hurt on the first play from scrimmage. The loss looks bad when you look at the final score, but we were within 5 with less than 7 minutes left. The bye week is coming at the right time to hopefully get Manny, Fiso, our DBs and an OL or 2 back. We still have a good shot against Utah in my opinion. Forks up (Cameron Boldi via Facebook)

  • Run

Growing tiresome of the same mistakes is understandable, but wanting to move on from the best coach the program has had in a while is still rich. Again, the forces at work against the team this season are apparent. Should it still be performing better? Sure, but like Cameron here pointed out, ASU doesn’t just go down. There’s always a pulse, even when there shouldn’t be.

  • Option

The “expectation” was for the defense to be improved at the very least marginally this year. That didn’t happen, and there’s no signs it’s going to at this point.

I don’t think any firings or head-rolling will occur until after the season. If defensive coordinator Keith Patterson can’t prove he can adjust his scheme to fit his players, then there should be discussion following the season. With all of the bad breaks the guy has been dealt in terms of personnel though, it’s rational to think it would be better otherwise.

I would like to see Cole play more this season. Manny is the better qb but Cole's ceiling is higher. (Bruce Kirshenbaum via Facebook)

  • Pass

Depends on what you value more: The development of Dillon Sterling-Cole (who does indeed have a higher ceiling), or winning games with Manny Wilkins under center.

I’ve been under the impression you folks want to win, therefore, I’d personally say stick with your starter.

  • Pass

In the same way many hope ASU can overcome its allergy to tackling in space, I hope you outgrow your lactose intolerance, Peggy. Not sure if it’s possible (the lactose intolerance being outgrown part).

The only thing consistent with Graham is terrible defense. It's time for ASU and Graham to part ways. #hirelesmiles (Ryan Frazier via Facebook)

  • Pass

I’m not saying to pass on wanting Les Miles. Sure. That’s great. I just don’t know how ASU would reel him in, because I’d personally set the odds at 95 percent in favor of him not considering the job if it were open.

Ask yourself why he would want to come coach in Tempe first, then get back to me though. (No, seriously, I’m curious as to what any of your pitches would be to convince him to come, because many of you mention his name every week. Hit the comments at the end of this.)

  • Run

Yeah, I’m not sure my undefeated-at-home, eight-win campaign prediction wasn’t accurate. Utah, on a Thursday night, in Arizona has the makings of a Pac-12 weirdathon ASU could manage to pull off. Washington on the road is a no. Arizona will find a way to get somewhat healthy by the Territorial Cup, so that’s not a gimme anymore.

Let’s say this: A seven-win season is still a success, especially when considering the recent run the team is on and what it’s battled through.

If the goal isn't to win in the PAC 12, what is it? Back to the drawing board I guess. People defend Todd Graham because he gets us about 8 wins per year and maybe a mid-level bowl game which we might lose, but 8 wins per year is not enough for a PAC 12 championship. In the SEC, losing games week after week will cost a head coach his job. Where is the urgency here in AZ? Why don't we hold our program to the same standard? You get what you tolerate, and right now we tolerate mediocrity. (Chase Hansen via Facebook)

  • Option

The goal for the team entering the year was to win the Pac-12. The secondary goal was to win the South division. I’m young, so while my grandfather can rattle off factoids about Frank Kush and how great those ASU teams were, since I’ve been alive, the Sun Devils have been marginally relevant, maybe a top-50 team. Since Graham arrived, they’ve been more relevant, consistently a top-35 team.

The Pac-12 currently has four other teams at the top just based off prestige and history alone: USC and UCLA form the top tier, then Stanford and Oregon form the second, if not vie for the top, based on their success throughout the last 10 years. Washington—if Chris Petersen can sustain this high level of success—could be next to join that tier, but there’s presently four other schools within the conference alone that off merit makes it difficult to assume ASU can win eight-plus games every year.

Also, culture is mightily different in southern America in comparison to Arizona, nonetheless the west coast as whole. Down south, people eat, breathe, sleep football. Out west, fandom is mostly convenient and fair weather. So while the couple of diehards want to scream and yell about a team underperforming, you won’t have a casual conversation with a random mother in a Phoenix grocery store about how the Sun Devils lost this weekend. That mom in the deep south is probably concerned with it, probably even offer you an opinion.

You do get what you tolerate. This school has fans with a reputation for leaving early as if it’s a tradition. The product on the field isn’t good at a school that isn’t typically considered a football school, therefore there’s not much interest unless the team is performing well. You’re welcome to correct me, but that’s what I see.

  • Run

Saturday was a glimpse of what a Sun Devil backfield featuring Kalen Ballage as the feature back would look like.

He proceeded to tally 18 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns, six catches for 105 yards, and completed 2 of 2 passes for 27 yards and one touchdown. When you factor in his return yards, he finished with 263 total yards.

Ballage has plenty of untapped potential. In focusing on his impact as a receiver, his big-play ability makes him a threat just about any time he touches the ball, particularly in the flat and in space (begs smaller defensive backs to try and bring him down). The worry is offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey force-feeds Ballage, but the 26 offensive touches seemed about right.

I wouldn’t get used to it, either. Lindsey utilized Ballage’s skillset thoroughly, but once Demario Richard is healthy, expect him to reassume the bell-cow carries.

In the past 21 games ASU has played, we have given up at least one 30yd+ td in 18 of those games. That is pathetic. ... THIS SEASON we have given up a 30+ yd td EVERY GAME! 13 pass or runs and 1 kickoff.

87yd NAU, 59yd TT, 75yd TT, 66yd TT, 34yd NTSA, 74yd Cal, 37yd USC, 67yd USC, 52yd UCLA, 75yd CO, 100 kick off WSC, 52yd WSC, 72yd OR, 31yd OR, 53yd OR, 58yd OR (Christopher West via Facebook)

  • Pass

Passing on this, because these stats are pretty painful to look at. Sheesh.

  • Option

Yes, Tyler! Those uniforms were dope. The Sun Devils outdressed the Ducks in their own stadium!

Unfortunately, that was about the only victory ASU was able to claim that day. Personally, I’m a fan of the throwback Sparky jerseys the team wore at home against Oregon last year, but I think outdressing the Ducks has only resulted in a loss on the field, and while there’s no correlation between the two, it makes me wonder...

Those were still cool, though.