Cornerback Kobe Williams called it an ‘out of wack’ performance on Saturday. Head coach Herm Edwards’ disappointed facial expression agreed at the postgame podium.
No. 17 Arizona State (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) committed 12 fouls for 122 yards, nearly as much as the entire Sun Devil offense yardage on Saturday. An uncharacteristic element of Edwards’ team, killed any life the Sun Devils had in their 21-3 loss to No. 13 Utah (6-1, 3-1).
“First of all, I told (Utah Head) Coach (Kyle) Whittingham that I’m embarrassed with our football team when it came to the fouls,” Edwards said. “We lost our composure and I don’t believe in doing that kind of stuff. I’ve never been involved in a game where a team had 12 fouls. For some reason we just lost our composure. That’s not the way we play and I apologized to him.”
The Arizona State defense created four turnovers — three fumbles and one interception — that turned into almost nothing. Each big play by the defense was matched by a penalty from the offense.
Both turnovers in the second half, cornerback Chase Lucas’ pick and linebacker Tyler Johnson’s strip sack of Tyler Huntley, positioned the Sun Devils inside the Utes’ 30-yard-line.
The drives netted negative yards.
An offensive pass interference call on wide receiver Kyle Williams pushed Arizona State 15 yards back. The Sun Devils settled for a 40-yard field goal from Cristian Zendejas, the team’s only points of the night.
After the Lucas interception, right tackle Roy Hemsley opened the Sun Devil possession with a false start. The Utes then collected one of their three sacks of Jayden Daniels on third down and moved Arizona State out of field goal range.
“A couple of times we had some drives going and then we had a penalty,” Edwards said. “We got turnovers on defense early in the game and did nothing with them. We got (four) turnovers and we didn’t do anything. It was one of those games where you have to give these guys a lot of credit. They have a fantastic defense and they didn’t let us score.”
Arizona State continued to do itself no favors against an already stout Utah defense . The three sacks from the Utes don’t tell the whole story. Daniels was pressured for most of the night, escaping pockets or turning up field to attempt to gain two or three yards. The Sun Devil quarterback, who has yet to face a bad performance in his early college career, only completed four passes. The 12-yard throw to Frank Darby finished as the furthest of them all.
Running back Eno Benjamin had a majority of the Sun Devils 136’ total yards. He had two big gains to begin the second half, but after two first downs, Daniels dropped a snap for a loss of eight to seemingly disrupt another possession.
“We knew coming in that they were a good defense,” Daniels said. “There’s just some things we have to fix. We didn’t have our best game today but you can’t dwell on it. They are just a relentless defense. They are going to get after the quarterback...They are a very stout defense. We’re not a very penalized team. But they are already a good team, so the free yards we gave them just kept adding up.”
In hindsight, the Sun Devil defense played well. They took the ball away four times, a number that usually results in a win. They kept Utah running back Zack Moss in check rather than his 32-yard touchdown run to put the cherry on top toward the end of the game. Outside of that Moss averaged under three yards per carry on his other 24 rushes.
The Utes’ three quarterbacks — Huntley left due to injury and returned in the first half — only completed 14 passes for under 200 yards.
Although, the penalties got the best of the defense as well. Defensive end Jermayne Lole cleaned up a sack on Huntley, that ended up being the play he was injured on, but saw it waved off on the third down play. Linebacker Darien Butler was called for unnecessary roughness to extend the drive in which Utah was about to punt.
Utah continued to drive, Moss reeled in a dump off pass on a long third down he converted. Utah got additional yardage after Arizona State Tillman safety Evan Fields was flagged for targeting and later ejected. On a fourth down attempt that Utah got anyways, linebacker Merlin Robertson was called for roughing the passer. The penalties created a seven-point swing into halftime after Moss extended the Utes’ lead to 14 on his one-yard score.
“We were just trying to play solid defense and keep it going, but those penalties killed us and got us out of whack a little bit,” Williams said.
In arguably the biggest game in the Edwards regime to date, his young team appeared to be just that; young. And the head coach admitted that a squad filled by players mostly playing in their first or second year were bound to play a contest like this.
“We don’t want to make excuses,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to do that, but our youth on both sides of the ball showed up today. It just did. We’ve been waiting for that to happen, we were hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I’m not naïve enough to think that it’s not going to. This was a big football game. You want to be in these moments because you find out a lot about your football team. Hopefully we can get in more positions like this the rest of the season.”
The timing, which is everything of course, couldn’t have been worse. For the first time in a regular season game since Edwards took over, the Sun Devils got blown out. Now they’ll attempt to rebound in Los Angeles against UCLA, who look a lot better than they did a week ago after blowing out Stanford.