Herm Edwards decided not to trust the unit that help propelled his team into the rankings. Instead, he picked to send his offense out backed up in its territory and faced against a fourth and 19.
With fans’ hands pressed against their faces, hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, they witnessed no miracle. Jayden Daniels searched for a receiver, but nothing opened up. Hit as he threw, the ball spun well short of the first down without a Sun Devil in sight.
The decision, surely to be questioned by some, probably goes down as the right one. Colorado’s first sack of the night created the desperation situation for Sun Devils, and forced Edwards to spend his first of three valuable timeouts with under two minutes left in the contest.
Edwards watched his team fall for the first time this season in Arizona State’s (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) 34-31 loss to Colorado (3-1, 1-0). He also witnessed his defense allow nearly twice as many points as it had the previous three weeks combined.
“You ate some humbled pie,” said Edwards on his message to his defense. “...I think when you go through a game like this where it’s an offensive show..you got to look at it and got to get it corrected.”
Colorado’s pace caused issues for the stout defensive group.
“We have to do a better job when they go tempo of getting line up faster,” Tillman safety Evan Fields said. “That’s probably the biggest thing, I feel like once they started going fast we didn’t have enough urgency to get lined up, so they got us out of place and made some plays like that.”
The Buffaloes sent a message from the start it was ready for a pound-for-pound offensive fight. The Ralphie squad rushed out to a 14-0 lead, with an answer to every punch the Sun Devils fired back.
“We knew coming in, this was a very good offense that we were facing,” Edwards said. “We were going to have to score some points. Defensively, I did not think that we were going to allow them the first four-or-five possessions to go down and score on us.”
Despite the Buffaloes losing star wide receiver Laviska Shenault after he had one touch, other players filled in nicely. Tony Brown took charge, he beat cornerback Jack Jones twice, once with speed and another other by strength. With three touchdowns and 122 yards later, Brown simply replaced Shenault who scored four times in Colorado’s win last season over the Sun Devils.
Nevertheless, defenders can’t guard receivers forever. Multiple times Colorado quarterback Steven Montez extended plays for chunks. The Sun Devils struggled with the in-between decisions with Montez near the line of scrimmage and staying attached to their receiver. On Brown’s first touchdown of the night, a 29-yard score, proved to be the prime example as he was wide open after a defender went for Montez.
Without a single sack, it’s easy to rewatch Montez’s highlights and come to the conclusion of why he had 337 passing yards and three touchdowns. A lack of pressure.
“The key to the game was this. The quarterback had a lot of time to throw the ball,” Edwards said. “That’s not fun with a quarterback that can throw the ball like this guy. We got to find a way to get to the quarterback, if you don’t, it’s going to be a long year.”
Down 14, Edwards turned to his quarterback for a sign of life, and he got it.
Daniels fit a tight spiral to Brandon Aiyuk between two defenders, a throw removed from an overshot of a guaranteed touchdown. Aiyuk, on a career night of nine catches and 122 yards, took off on the runway to fly into the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown. It’d be Daniels’ first bullet in the eventual shootout.
Late in the fourth quarter, Daniels had stood toe-to-toe with his counterpart, Montez. This time however, Daniels had the chance to put the game in his favor. The defense proved a stop, a rarity on Saturday, allowed the Sun Devils to push ahead in a 31-31 tie with 12:07 to go.
It appeared Daniels prepped to lead another comeback, glimmered hope with three straight completions to put the Sun Devils in the Buffaloes’ side of the field. His next throw resulted in his most crucial mistake in Tempe to date.
His first-down pass intended for Kyle Williams, ended in the grasp of Buffalo defensive back Derrion Rakestraw for an interception. The momentum changed in a flash.
“The coverage was pretty good, he tried to fit it in there tight,” Edwards said. “The guy made a good play.”
Daniels took blame for missed throws and the interception, but even he realized it’s hard to blame the offense that put up 31 points.
“We had everything there, we had a game plan,” Daniels said. “It was just a matter of missed throws, missed assignments. In the second had they started bringing a lot more pressure, tried to get me off my spot. So I mean just sitting there and sticking to the game plan. I feel like we did a pretty good job of it and (there were) just a couple plays that could have made the difference in the game.”
His perfect ball to Frank Darby to tie the game will be forgotten. Two beautiful passes to pick up third downs to Aiyuk and Ricky Pearsall distant memories. The interception won’t escape minds, his first taste of the low side of being a quarterback in a night that blame shouldn’t be shed his way.
Daniels can only control himself. The offense can’t play defense and vice versa. Headed for Cal, Arizona State searches for a balanced attack from each group against a stingy undefeated Cal team next Friday.