In Herm Edwards’ third road game as the head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils, it ended much like the first two. Chances left on the field. A quick start squandered. Another loss by a touchdown.
Arizona State (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) once again found themselves the loser by seven points. As they were defeated by the 21st ranked Colorado Buffaloes (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday in Boulder, 28-21.
“Another disappointing loss on the road. Just seem to fall short. Last three road games we lose by a score. Very hard fought football game,” Edwards said. “Opportunities presented themselves. They capitalized on the opportunities when they presented themselves and we did not. And that’s what the game boils down to.”
The Sun Devils opened the fourth quarter primed to tie the game at 28. Late in the third quarter, redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Darby for a 72-yard pass to open the drive.
On four-and-goal from CU’s three-yard line, Wilkins lofted a ball on a fade route to sophomore wide receiver Curtis Hodges. The ball got knocked away from Hodges and the Sun Devils turned the ball over on downs.
That wasn’t the game-changing play however, it was that on 2nd-and-goal. Wilkins rolled out to his right looking for sophomore running back Eno Benjamin in the flat. Wilkins had tripped out of the snap and Benjamin was covered. Wilkins ended up being sacked for a loss of eight.
The quarterback talked about the play after the game:
“I thought I could evade him (CU sophomore defensive end Mustafa Johnson, who sacked Wilkins), and then just shoot towards the end zone,” he said. “I guess the smarter decision there would’ve been just throw it away. Leave us there on the one. That’s poor on my part.”
That was the biggest missed chance on offense. The inability to get off the field hurt the defense. Colorado converted half of their third downs on the day, the Buffs also went four-for-six in the fourth quarter.
Before the end of the first half, Colorado tied it at 14. The Sun Devils had the Buffaloes in a third-and-12 from their own 28-yard line. CU’s redshirt junior quarterback Steven Montez found a wide open senior wide receiver Jay MacIntyre for a 27-yard gain.
The touchdown on that drive went to sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault on a three-yard screen pass with 24 seconds left in the second quarter. Shenault scored all four touchdowns for the Buffaloes. Two through the air, two on the ground. Many times, Shenault got the direct snap to pick up short gains on either third, fourth down or in goal line situations.
Shenault was the headache for the Sun Devil defense. He had 18 touches for 140 yards, and of course the four touchdowns.
“He’s a fabulous player. Just watch him on tape, he was really fabulous. There was times that we had him doubled but he still caught the football,” said Edwards of Shenault. “You’ve got to give him credit, they found a way to get him the ball and he made a lot of big plays for them today.”
Shenault also had two catches on third downs to extend Colorado’s final drive to run out the clock.
Earlier in the week, Edwards compared Shenault to Sun Devil star, junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry. Harry got blown up on a punt return in the third quarter. It was obvious he was hurt, he attempted to comeback for a few plays. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, it was clear he was not himself and missed most of the second half.
“Anytime you lose one of your better players, that always hurts you because N’Keal is going to make some plays,” Edwards said. “He’s like their guy (Shenault), he’s going to make the unannounced play; you throw him the ball and all of a sudden he makes some guys miss and he’s running.”
It looked as if the Sun Devils were going to open up on offense after they started their first drive of the second half with a 40-yard touchdown connection between Wilkins and Darby. Benjamin rushed for 96 yards in the first half, and after the passing game didn’t do much in the first half, it sparked to start the second half. It appeared that the two facets of the offense were both working. But that wasn’t the case.
Benjamin only rushed for 24 yards in the second half. The offense after the Darby touchdown didn’t surmount any type of drive besides the failed fourth down conversation to Hodges.
Edwards was asked about Colorado’s second half adjustments:
“They did a nice job. But they got us in some bad downs too and that’s always bad. You never want to be behind the chains. We’ve got time now to go back and regroup and look at us, we’ll self-scout on offense, defense and special teams, and then we play Stanford at home, another really good football team,” he said. “I just think there’s a lot of work to be done still and we knew that when we started the season off. We got ourselves to 3-3, we could say we could be better than that but we’re not. We’re a 3-3 football team and we’ve got some improving to do.”
Edwards and the Sun Devils can always look back to see what they could do differently, but that won’t change the score. They’ll head into their bye week needing to figure out how to stop talking about missed opportunities and taking advantage of them on the field.
“We’ve got to do a better job, we got to get healthy, we had some guys beat up. We have a bye this week and we’re a 3-3 football team with six games left, we’ll see what we can make out of it. We’re still right in it but we’ve got to win games,” Edwards said.
The Sun Devils next game will be on October 18, on a Thursday night, when they host No. 14 Stanford Cardinal.