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SDSU vs. ASU: Takeaways from the Sun Devils’ first loss of the season

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What happened?

San Diego State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It was the Rashaad Penny show at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night that left the Arizona State Sun Devils staggering with their first loss of the season. The social media reaction was swift and vicious, but there’s more than meets the eye, sometimes. But sometimes, it’s exactly what you saw.

Here’s what we learned:

  • The secondary might be OK

Despite all of ASU’s problems stopping the run, the Sun Devils were stingy at allowing yardage through the air. Junior quarterback Christian Chapman completed just three passes to wide receivers or tight ends for 22 yards. While the Aztecs didn’t need an air attack to win, the fact ASU did not let them get anything going was enough to keep the game close despite Penny’s domination. If sophomore Kobe Williams and redshirt junior Joey Bryant can continue to improve on the outside, the ASU defense may be able to hold its own against the Pac-12’s elite receiving corps.

  • Special teams will be a bigger problem than anyone thought

ASU’s special teams units have been one of the more consistent aspects of the program over the past four years, but Saturday showed the Sun Devils aren’t immune to bad play. Redshirt junior punter Michael Sleep-Dalton kicked with his left foot again due to an ailing right leg. He averaged 36 yards per punt on the night, but a 12-yard slice with a minute left in the first half gave San Diego State an easy three points and momentum. Penny also returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score and senior Quest Truxton took a punt 27 yards. Without the dependability of Zane Gonzalez and Matt Haack in the kicking game, the Sun Devils have reverted back to the pack, something they may not be able to afford.

  • The run game is an issue, too

What was supposed to be the biggest strength coming into the season has become a hindrance for the Sun Devil offense. Both senior backs, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, have gotten hurt in each of the first two weeks, leaving redshirt sophomore Nick Ralston as the most experienced backfield option without an injury. If Richard and/or Ballage miss extended time, things could get hairy for the ASU offense, creating pressure on the receivers to pick up the slack.

  • Manny Wilkins is not the problem

I know it’s popular to blame the quarterback when a team struggles, but Wilkins has performed admirably with what he’s been given. Despite the fact that ASU has zero rushing game to speak of, the redshirt junior signal caller has completed 70 percent of his throws for 598 yards and four touchdowns. Despite his three fumbles against SDSU (one of which was lost), Wilkins is careful with the ball, not giving up possessions easily. But with a stagnant running attack and a porous line in front of him, there’s only so much Manny Wilkins can do.