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The RPO Column: Miscommunication (Week 11)

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, folks. The RPO was idle last week with the Arizona State Sun Devils observing their bye week, but we’re back after a rough loss at the hands of Utah.

For those who are new here, the process is pretty simple: We ask for your comments, takes, thoughts, etc., then we provide you feedback, which we can do one of three things with: run, pass or option.

This week’s post is dedicated to miscommunication.

The same flaws which have haunted the Sun Devils throughout the year were at the forefront of their downfall on Thursday. Blown coverages led to deep touchdowns, while breakdowns at the line of scrimmage led to ASU ceding 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. Each are results of miscommunication.

Communication enables progress. One of the reasons the Sun Devils have been unable to demonstrate much growth, as many of you noted in our comments, is because the communication has been poor. Regardless of who’s been injured or healthy, the one thing which has hurt the Sun Devils every game has been a lack of communication.

ASU could very well be bowl eligible by now. Who knows, but until the chemistry is improved, the results will remain the same.

Anyways, enough sadness. Let’s talk about what you had to say!

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

“I don't want to sound too gloomy, because in the grand scheme of things it's just a game. But my main takeaway is to stop expecting anything different than what we saw tonight. This 2016 ASU team just isn't that good. It's not a matter of one or two quick fixes. We no longer sit in the top 4 or 5 programs in the PAC-12 where ASU has been for the past few years. I don't know if this season was expected to be a "build year" or what, but if we do much worse than this next year in 2017 then there will need to be some serious reconsiderations about strategy and coaching going forward.” (Chase Hansen via Facebook)


It’s kind of difficult to really expect anything more from this team. As I said in last week’s column, ASU isn’t a powerhouse. It’s been a borderline top-five Pac-12 school in recent years, but it hasn’t been in the upper echelon since I’ve been alive.

This was a rebuilding year for the Sun Devils. Local media—myself included—may have been bullish on the team surpassing the seven-win mark, but clearly those who had them finishing within the six-to-seven win range were more accurate. They’re on pace to be the team they were expected to be, but I think it’s wrong to think they couldn’t have been better barring circumstances.


Even if the group was fully healthy, it wasn’t going to be considered a strength of the offense.

That said, those filling in have struggled. Left tackle Evan Goodman was the lone returning starter from a season ago; he’s been the only projected starter to not miss game due to injury and/or find himself shuffled into a different position. The lack of continuity and experience has been too much for the unit to overcome. As Graham said, 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks is an absurd amount to concede in 60 minutes, especially if the group hasn’t been consistent enough in the rushing phase of the game either.

“Sun Devils need to score 50+ points to have a shot at winning a game this year.” (Chris Gonzalez via Facebook)


Well, on Thursday, 50 points would have literally won the game. So, you’re actually not wrong, my friend. Clever.


This guy, N’Keal Harry.

Seriously, what can’t he do? That was the breakthrough game for him, in my mind. He crossed the century mark receiving while going up against one of the best secondary units in the conference. His 31-yard touchdown run and his 46-yard pass demonstrated his unreal big-play ability and field vision. As Graham said: “He’s gonna be great.”

“i hate the style of the offense, go old school smash mouth football.” (Tsosie Calvin via Facebook)


I don’t think this ASU offense is built for, nor capable of being an “old school” offense that tries to punch opposing defenses in the mouth at the line of scrimmage. The Sun Devils relied on the passing game once behind, but early on the rushing game was predicated on getting Kalen Ballage off the edge and in space.

That said, let’s talk about Ballage for a second.

He was set for one of the best games of his career—then he was substituted during ASU’s opening drive of the second quarter, and again on the Sun Devils’ next possession.

Ballage is beginning to put things together. His speed combined with his playmaking ability in space, at his size, made him the bigger threat to Utah’s defense than Demario Richard.

It’s not a knock on Richard, but he’s better utilized as a power back. The Sun Devils weren’t going to overpower the Utes’ front seven, and were having success getting Ballage in space. Shying away from him at the time ASU did, leading 13-0, limited the offense during a moment it needed to be as versatile and varied as possible. Are we impressed with Ballage’s game? Absolutely, but he offered more than what was showcased.

“If your expectations are .500 then that is great. That has been the norm for the last 20+ years. The WORST passing defense in the nation. Not one year but the LAST two years in a row. I am sorry. This is not cutting it. Zero tackling. You have a defensive head coach. So what really is the problem? This program is digressing while programs like Utah, Colorado and Wazzou are blowing us out. Soon to be UW. Sorry but the writing is on the wall. We have the recruits but we don't have the coaching. Plain and simple.” (Randy Detherage via Facebook)


What’s cutting it for Arizona State fans?

Thursday, that team was down by two—two points—to the No. 13 team in the country at halftime, and a significant portion of the crowd was filing out. May not have been any of you, but let’s look at the fan base, too. There was reason to think ASU had a chance.

Likewise, there’s no excuses to be made for the mistakes caused by mental lapses which occur every week. I’m as tired as you are repeating the same comments on it after each game—it’s Week 11, going on Week 12. Everyone on the bench all the way down to the waterboy ought to understand what you’re implementing strategically. The fact players don’t, regardless of whether they’re backups, is appalling.


It’s going to seem like I’m backtracking, but while ASU may not have the physical talent to beat upper echelons in the Pac-12, it can contend and beat decent teams like Texas Tech and Cal, when healthy.

Look at this list, and ask yourself how many of these guys are important?

“Graham better figure it out next season. Our team is getting manhandled by ever Pac12 team. We are slow and we are not physical.” (Bruce Kirshenbaum via Facebook)


Not on Graham figuring it out—he better, and probably will next season. We’re passing here because there’s an assumption ASU is going to out-recruit the top schools in the Pac-12.


Who would’ve known it would come down to Tucson.


Depends who you are, Guillermo. For some, 2016 has been the greatest year of all time.

Not for the Sun Devils, though.