In their first two games in October, the Arizona State Sun Devils’ offensive line showed signs of life after a slow start to the season.
Then, USC stomped it out.
The unit of Cohl Cabral, Sam Jones, A.J. McCollum, Steven Miller and Zach Robertson faltered against the Trojans, allowing six sacks of redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins. In ASU’s two previous games, Wilkins was sacked just three times combined.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley called it the “disease of more.” Success can breed more success, but it can also breed complacency and confidence, which is how Miller described preparation for the Trojans.
“We really didn’t have the edge we needed this week,” Miller said. “It wasn’t a trap game because they’re a good football team. But essentially it was a trap game. You take them a little lightly because they got beat like that. It’s the perfect storm for you not to perform like you should.”
After questions early in the year about how well this group could protect Wilkins, the Sun Devil o-line took steps forward each week, keeping him clean in wins over Washington and Utah. But USC gave ASU a rude awakening of how far they still need to go.
Cabral noted USC’s ends are more geared towards getting to the passer than any other team they played in conference, posing problems for him and Robertson.
“The past couple weeks, they’ve had bigger bodies playing end,” Cabral said. “They’re more there to stop the run than rush the pass, try to collapse the pocket more.”
The fact that the Sun Devils were down early didn’t help matters. The Trojans seemed to time the cadence, knowing that Wilkins needed to throw to get ASU back into the game, meaning there was little use for stuffing the run.
On ASU’s first drive of the fourth quarter, down 41-17, Wilkins was sacked by senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who was lined up opposite Robertson, on three consecutive plays, encapsulating a painful night for the Sun Devil signal caller.
With a lopsided score, offenses can get out of rhythm and get behind schedule. With down and distance a factor, the Trojans knew exactly what was coming.
“They jumped (the snap) pretty good,” offensive line coach Rob Sale said. “The two weeks before that where we had success, obviously the game was in a different situation with third and shorts versus third and long.”
There were some positives, however. Despite being down from the get-go, ASU was able to run the ball reasonably well with senior Demario Richard and freshman Eno Benjamin, as those two combined to average 5.4 yards per carry. It didn’t help on the scoreboard, but it can build momentum moving forward.
“We’ve got to keep (opponents) off balance,” Sale said. “We have to be close to 50-50. When we get down and we’re throwing, it’s not good for us.”
Robertson, who gave up edge pressure all game and was pulled at one point, has spent this week in practice sharing time with redshirt junior Quinn Bailey who has started the season as the first-team right tackle. But that’s not the only position being evaluated, according to Sale.
“I told them we’re going to evaluate them during the week and whoever has the best week of preparation is going to start,” Sale said. “I want to look at, when I watch the tape, win or loss, how hard they play for ASU, how hard they’re playing for the rest of the line.”