To quote Emperor Palpatine in the Rise Of Skywalker, “Long have I waited.”
It’s finally here. It’s game week for Arizona State football in what has been a rollercoaster of a year unlike any other in 2020.
But at least for now, we can rejoice. The Pac-12 and Sun Devil football is back when ASU takes on USC in an empty Los Angeles Coliseum this Saturday at 10 a.m. local time.
Although it’s not a normal Sun Devil Saturday full of fans, there is comfort in having some sense of normalcy in this crazy year.
With game one of a seven-game schedule lying ahead, head coach Herm Edwards took time to speak with media on Monday morning. Here were some of the topics discussed ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Trojans.
Rise And Shine
Wake-up call and breakfast for ASU players on Saturday will be around 4:45 a.m. for a 9 a.m. kickoff time in the pacific time zone.
It might not seem ideal, but it’s the conditions that the Sun Devils will have to deal with while getting ready for an early-morning kickoff.
Edwards has noted throughout Fall camp that his team is accustomed to the early mornings from practices (which begin around 9 a.m.), but the idea of a gameday beginning this early is a whole other process in itself.
For a group that is used to having week one kickoffs with a crowded stadium and 7-8 p.m. start time, it’s definitely a change in routine. Nevertheless, both teams have to go through it, and Edwards is making sure that his guys adjust accordingly.
“It’s not the night before (the game), it starts today,” said Edwards of adjusting sleeping schedules for his student-athletes. “They need to start getting their sleep. That’s important. It’s easy for me to say...I told them these are things that will come on them fast. You need to get your rest. Young people, they like to burn the candles at both ends, but you’re an athlete and you have to get up early to play on a Saturday morning to play this game and to function. Both teams are sitting in the same situation.”
Of course, early wake-ups are nothing difficult for Edwards, who at the glistening age of 66, still finds his energy and arises around 4 a.m. to work out and get his day started at Sun Devil Stadium.
But for his players, the early rise and cup of coffee will likely be an adjustment. The repercussions of the game time are still to be determined, but with an empty stadium, finding energy early and avoiding sloppy play will definitely be something to keep an eye on.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever played a game at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, players as well,” Edwards said. “For both teams, it will be interesting. How does the game start? That’s something I’m going to kind of look forward to. How does it start with a stadium that’s not going to be full by any stretch of the imagination...What’s the pace of the game that early in the morning? I wish I could tell you. We’ll just deal with it when it presents itself and adjust.”
How ever fans, media, coaches, or players feel about the early start as well, there is logic to the early kickoff. Just look at Ohio State-Nebraska on Oct. 24.
During the noon E.T./9 am P.T. time slot on Fox Sports (same slot as ASU this Saturday), an Ohio State 52-17 beatdown of Nebraska was the highest-rated college football game (3.7 average metered market rating) on a Saturday that featured much more enticing matchups such as Iowa State-Oklahoma State, Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Ole Miss, Texas-Baylor, and many others.
Love it or hate it, the morning kickoff should bring more eyeballs to the Pac-12, especially during a year where the Pac-12 Network will not be broadcasting any games (hurrah for any DirecTV cable providers).
“Both of these teams recruit the same players, especially when it comes to the Southern California area,” Edwards said. “But I think it lets the national audience watch our conference and you want it to be a competitive game by both parties. You want a brand of football that people look at and go, ‘Woah, we see what they are doing out there.’ It’s part of it and anytime you can play USC, a team that has a national brand...It’s a big game.”
Facing USC’s Offense
Facing Graham Harrell’s offensive system and standout quarterback Kedon Slovis for USC, the Sun Devil defense is surely in for a tall task.
The group has the veteran players to stand tall, but it will no doubt be fun competition.
“They are a pretty good offense and they really don’t worry about the opponent’s defense as much as they run their system,” Edwards said. “They have certain routes they run when they read the coverage...Their quarterback (Slovis), he’s in his second season now with a talented group of receivers. They have good runners and a talented offensive line. This group’s been together for a year offensively.”
A Coliseum Memory
When posed with the question of a favorite opening game from his tenured football career, Edwards reverted to a memory about playing in the LA Coliseum, where the Sun Devils will play this weekend.
During his rookie season in 1977 and Joe Namath’s last year in the NFL with the LA Rams, Edwards intercepted the Hall of Famer in his first game.
Edwards father, who didn’t get to attend his son’s games in high school and college due to work responsibilities, was there for the lasting moment.
“My dad didn’t have the opportunity to watch me play high school football. He worked 3-4 hours away from where I lived and where we had our home,” said Edwards recalling the memory. “He didn’t get the opportunity to watch me as a college player, either. He came to the Ram game in the coliseum and watched me play my first football game...I can remember it like it was yesterday...I’ll never forget that.”
All Systems Go
Both Zak Hill’s offensive system and Antonio Pierce’s 4-3 defense are all set for Saturday. Though most roster and starting spots have been cemented, Edwards said there is still room for players to earn opportunities.
But for the most part, the systems are engrained into the players, and it’s a matter of execution when the lights come on.
Edwards shared how words and teaching moments between coaches and players this week in practice have been brief. Everyone knows what they have to do at this point in the practice schedule. It’s almost showtime.
“Players are kind of like, ‘Okay, we get it.’ There’s this sense of there’s a game coming,” Edwards said of final touches. “It’s coming 5-6 days from now and we’re going to play a football game. You can feel it. There’s a different switch now because the reality of a football game is about to take place for us.”