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ASU vs. Stanford: Takeaways from the Sun Devils’ first Pac-12 loss

Here’s how we broke it down.

Arizona State v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Arizona State Sun Devils (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) did Saturday something that the program has been accustomed to over the last few seasons: they lost on the road in conference play. A 34-24 loss to the Stanford Cardinal sent ASU into its bye week with a losing record for the first time since 2003.

Losing the turnover margin loses games

That’s right, the first takeaway is that ASU can’t generate any. In five games, ASU has a turnover margin of zero. The Sun Devils forced a fumble deep in Stanford territory in the first quarter, but redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins was intercepted twice, the first of which resulted in a Cardinal touchdown. The Sun Devils are now 0-2 when losing the turnover battle, 1-1 when tying it and 1-0 when winning it. It speaks for itself.

Run defense is a problem

While this may fall into the “no duh” category, it has to be brought up. Stanford running back Bryce Love set a program record with 301 yards on 25 carries Saturday, tearing the Sun Devil defense to shreds. What’s crazy is that eight of Love’s runs went for a yard or less, meaning it essentially took him 17 carries to rack up that kind of milage. Despite the thrashing by Love, the Sun Devils did not adjust by putting in more big guys to try to win the line of scrimmage, despite senior Tashon Smallwood and junior JoJo Wicker not getting the job done.

Wilkins is less effective while hurt

The veteran signal caller has shown resilience in his desire to play while banged up, but his presence on the field may not be what the team needs. After sustaining a low hit on ASU’s final drive of the first half, Wilkins completed 10 of 15 passes for 109 yards and was intercepted once, a far cry from his prolific passing in ASU’s first four games. If Wilkins doesn’t get healthy during the bye week, the Sun Devils are in a world of trouble when No. 6 Washington comes to town on Oct. 14.

Special teams is still an adventure

Mediocre play from the return and punt units has become a hallmark for ASU this year. Senior Kalen Ballage muffed his first opportunity, returning the ball just six yards and redshirt sophomore Ryan Newsome returned two punts for a total loss of two yards. The typically steady freshman Brandon Ruiz knocked a kickoff out of bounds to give Stanford good field position for its final drive, which resulted in a 21-yard field goal and a switch of momentum back to the home side. He also missed a 59-yard field goal at the end of the game, but it had been long decided at that point.