Through the first six games of the season there’s a very easy way to describe the Sun Devil football team, average. They have been great in Tempe, and unable to make the big play when they needed it on the road.
After a week to refresh, ASU plays their only weeknight game of the season Thursday night against the Stanford Cardinal at Sun Devil Stadium. Both teams began the season well, but have struggled of late.
ASU has dropped three of their last four games, and Stanford has been soundly defeated in back-to-back games.
In last year’s meeting in Palo Alto, the Cardinal easily bested ASU 34-24 as Bryce Love ran for 301 yards on the ground. David Shaw’s team has become a powerhouse in the Pac-12 North, and developed a strong identity of playing great defense and running the football.
The Sun Devils know that they’re in a tough position in trying to win the division, but with some help from the rest of the conference they aren’t eliminated yet. They’e also aware that they could be in much better position had they helped themselves.
“There are probably 10 plays that are the difference between us being 6-0 and top 12 in the country and every talking about Arizona State being the top of college football,” said defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales.
6-0 might be a stretch, but ASU could be at least 5-1 if certain things go there way or they don’t shoot themselves in the foot with mental errors. Gonzales has credited ASU’s offense for doing a tremendous job of not turning the ball over, and he wants his defense to do a better job of forcing turnovers.
“I’m surprised that we don’t have more interceptions at this point with only three,” Gonzales said. “We’ve got 13 (fumbles) on the ground but we’ve only come up with four of them, that is a bit of a learning experience. Everyone wants a touchdown now instead of just changing the field.”
For ASU’s offense, they know the challenge that Stanford can present to opposing offenses. But, this isn’t the vintage Cardinal defense that can lockdown any offense. They have shown some kinks in the armor, and offensive coordinator Rob Likens believes ASU can find success.
“I’ve seen some people complete some passes against them in the secondary, and they’ve given up some rushing yards that they’re probably not accustomed to,” Likens said.
Even though Likens sees some areas where they can exploit, it won’t be an easy task.
“One thing they do to make up for the lack of experience I see on film is they are running to the ball really well and they’re tackling really well,” Likens said. “That’s what makes them so difficult to beat.”
ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins has taken the bye week as an opportunity to get work on his mechanics and get healthy.
The Sun Devil passing game has been held in check throughout conference play, Wilkins has received his fair share of criticism for not doing more with his passing options.
The offense as a whole has experienced struggles in the third quarter and starting fast out of the halftime break. Neither Wilkins or Likens could directly pinpoint what’s causing the problem, but Wilkins thinks the team will turn it around.
“In the third quarter we get very hyped for the moment, we’re there and then we hit a lull,” Wilkins said. “(Stanford) scores a lot of points in the third quarter, they don’t score a lot of points in the first quarter.”
ASU will look to remain unbeaten at home Thursday night, and with USC looming the following week they will want to secure some momentum at home.