The last time the Arizona State Sun Devils played the Sacramento State Hornets, the Sun Devils had an easy blowout victory.
Six years later, the teams met once again in Tempe. Things did not end up the way they did last time. For most of the contest, the tension could be felt from each fan inside Sun Devil Stadium on Friday night. Boos roared down as the crowd struggled to comprehend the Sun Devils’ struggles against a FCS opponent.
“I get it,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “That’s why fans come. That’s what they do. They cheer and they boo. When we aren’t playing well they boo. That’s nothing unusual. Fans are passionate. They’re emotional. At the end, they were all clapping because we won.”
Arizona State (2-0) overcame its sloppy finish to pull out the 19-7 win over Sacramento State (1-1).
The Sun Devils had multiple times to put points on the board, but weren’t able to capitalize.
Running back A.J. Carter fumbled the ball in the end zone, which was recovered by the Hornets. Later in the second quarter, quarterback Ethan Long had the ball fly right over his head which led to wave of booing from the crowd.
The red zone offense looked hideous the entire game. Big plays kept setting the Sun Devils up, whether it be Eno Benjamin’s 33-yard fourth-down rush or Brandon Aiyuk’s reception for 52 yards. But with each bend of Sacramento State’s defense, there was no break.
“Every time we went out there and made a big play and got inside the 10-yard line, we would lose two yards on first down trying to run the football,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “That can’t happen and we got to fix that. We got to find out what we are good at and what we can do and then make sure we do that down there.
“If we score touchdowns in those situations, it’s a completely different mood and a totally different situation.”
Drops, penalties, blown assignments all combined for the sluggish output. A personal foul call on Aiyuk wiped away a deep-ball touchdown to Frank Darby in the third quarter.
“We had some misassignments,” Jayden Daniels said. “But it’s not solely their (receivers) fault. It’s my fault too. We’ve got to get the ball out faster. I missed some throws. I’ve just got to be better. As an offense, we have to be better on third downs.... As an offense, we really didn’t play to the standard we set for the week.”
The true-freshman quarterback threw 17-for-27 and 304 yards. The majority of the offense came from the passing game with 98 yards receiving compiled by Aiyuk.
Things got off to a very slow start, and it seemed impossible the Arizona State offense would eclipse 300 yards. With no points on the board until two minutes left in the first half when the Sun Devil kicker Cristian Zendejas kicked a 36-yard field goal to put them up 3-0. Zendejas had 12 of the Sun Devil points and went 4-for-4. The four field goals were the most by a Sun Devil since Zane Gonzalez had four against UTSA in 2016.
At the half, they had only four first downs, while the Hornets had eight. Only two of their eight third downs were successful at the half. Not to mention the run game just wasn’t working. They had a total combined 16 rushing yards, compared to the Hornets’ 44.
Benjamin did not have as a good of a game as he did last week with only 69 rushing yards, in comparison to 102 yards against the Kent State. A 72-yard touchdown by Benjamin late in the fourth gave the crowd a sigh of relief and sealed the deal for the Sun Devils.
The second half was still slow for the Devils, although they started to find somewhat of a rhythm in the pass and run game.
“We’ve got to keep practicing. We aren’t getting any new players. We aren’t get any new coaches. We just have that keep practicing and get better,” Edwards said. “That’s all we can do. If we do less to help us offensively, then we’ll do less. We have to control the line of scrimmage. That’s what defenses are taught to do. When you have to change the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to run the football, hard to throw the football, hard to do everything. It was bad and that’s what it looked like a lot of tonight.”
On the opposite end of the ball, the Hornets quarterback Kevin Thomson threw for 263 yards. The junior running back Elijah Dotson ran for 32 yards while also having 63 yards receiving. Their offense had a total of 305 yards, 263 passing and 42 rushing. The Sun Devil defense carried the offense, which is something defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales expects from his team.
“When we are playing a true freshman quarterback, there’s a lot of things that the offense can’t do because they are trying to make sure he has success and continues to grow in this deal,” Gonzales said.
The Sun Devils will need to sharpen things up as they hit the road to play No. 19 Michigan State in Lansing, Michigan next Saturday.