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ASU Football: Cementing the new offensive identity

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Run run run

Andrew Palla/House of Sparky

After failing to establish the run against Michigan State and San Diego State, head coach Herm Edwards wanted to fix it heading into their game against Washington. The Sun Devils didn’t come out with the win in Seattle. But they did get things going again on the ground.

The Sun Devils ran for 164 yards on the Huskies after only running for 80 yards combined against the Spartans and the Aztecs. Edwards talked about what himself and the coaching staff discussed after the loss to San Diego State.

“When the coaches got in here, they got in here that Sunday (after San Diego State) about 11-12 -- I didn’t go home. So, when I didn’t go home, I think my wife was the first one to know that something was about to happen,” he said. “Coaches came in, I said, ‘Here’s the deal.’ They said, ‘Coach, we’ve got you.’ I said, ‘Alright, let’s go to work, let’s find a way to get it done.’ And we’ve got great coaches and they got it done. (Offensive line coach) Dave (Christensen) and [offensive coordinator] (Rob) Likens, they said, ‘Let’s do it, coach.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s start practicing it and move some guys around’ and obviously we changed.”

Edwards ever since his arrival to Tempe has wanted to run the ball and be good on defense. Why? Because they travel well. The staff decided they didn’t just want to run the ball through zone blocking. Offensive coordinator Rob Likens talked more about the transition on Tuesday.

“Yeah, it went really well. We wanted to get some gap scheme stuff in. I think it fits the personality of our offense. They’re athletic and big,” he said. “I never wanted to just be a zone team. I think that you can pound on people a little bit and football is still, last time I looked, a contact sport. You try to play to the human element of the game and bruise people up. That’s kind of what we wanted our personality to be.”

“We want to come downhill. We want to be able to run the football. Herm stated that when he took the job, what he wanted to do. We wanted to be able to be a team that, if we line up in a four-minute offense, we can run the clock out. We don’t want to be and we never wanted to be a straight zone, 10 personnel, spread team. That’s just not what we wanted to do. We wanted to have a different identity.”

The team will continue to use Nick Ralston at the fullback position to continue the power scheme. Likens talked about his impact in the Washington game after coming from the defense.

“The second he came over (from defense) you could tell a difference on our offense. He just brings a toughness factor, guys believe in him, they trust him. That’s a huge word I just used, they trust him,” Likens said. “And to come over from defense and then to line up and sort out all of the things that he had to do in the middle of the game, and only had two physical days to practice that, is really amazing. That just speaks to how smart of a football player he is, he’s able to watch film and take coaching and immediately take it right out onto the field, and we need more guys like that.”

The Sun Devils will look to continue to run the football with their new designs. And what better team to do it against the Oregon State Beavers who are struggling to defend the run. The Beavers currently rank 127th of 129 FBS teams in yards allowed on the ground, allowing 280.3 yards per game.

This could also be a great opportunity to get confidence back in running backs Trelon Smith and Isaiah Floyd. Smith had a critical fumble in the loss to the Huskies, and getting him work will get his sprits up. For Floyd, since Smith’s return from suspension, he’s seen his role diminish. Part of that according to Edwards is because Smith knows the protections better.

Floyd however, can help with something Edwards also wants to put into the offense.

“I said this when I got here as well I said, ‘The thing that I learned about this offense, we didn’t throw it to the backs,’” he said. “Well the backs are a big part of the passing game now, they have to be because -- only 35 catches for running backs (last season at ASU). You can’t do that. You can’t function that way. You got to get the backs involved in the offense and the passing game.”

Last year, ASU running backs caught 33 passes last season. So far through four games, the backs have 21 catches.

Either through the ground or the air, the running backs will have a big part in what Edwards and staff want to create in the offensive’s identity.