It took four weeks of confusion, at least from the viewer’s standpoint.
The timing seemed just a click off, the running and passing attack not quite in perfect unison. Whatever it took, Arizona State (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) flipped a switch on Saturday in a 42-23 victory over No. 20 UCLA (3-2, 1-1), and it felt like the Sun Devils turned the page on a shaky and inconsistent first third of the season.
Forty-two points marks a season-high for ASU, with the offense exploding for its best performance yet against one of the conference’s premier opponents.
Coming into this week, ASU had a total of four offensive plays all season deemed “explosive” at 30 yards or more, exactly one in each game. On Saturday, Daniels completed three passes in the second quarter that went for over 45 yards, including two touchdowns to Ricky Pearsall of 65 and 54 yards.
“It was about going out there and getting the nerves off in the first quarter, and then locking it back in,” Pearsall said. “The leaders stepped up and were vocal about it. We emphasize (being explosive) everyday in practice, we just went out there and did what we do in practice and executed. We’re never satisfied as an offense, this was just a glimpse of what we can do.”
Soon after, Rachaad White tied up the season total with a marvelous 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Another chunk play of 48 yards on a Daniels-Curtis Hodges connection stimulated a 96-yard touchdown drive.
It was the perfect storm for a Daniels breakout. UCLA came into the game dead-last in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing 330 passing yards per game. The game was an annual homecoming of sorts for the quarterback who grew up in nearby San Bernardino.
The Sun Devils needed a statement win badly, and it started with their quarterback. The junior exploded to a 286-yard, two-touchdown (0 interceptions) performance on 13-of-18 completions. He boasted a passing efficiency rating of 242.4
“I’d say we’re on the right track, we’re not completely there yet but we’re in a good direction,” Daniels said. “I got this win for my grandpa who passed. Yesterday was his birthday. It just felt good coming back home to play in front of family and friends.”
The offensive line operated in silence, a great sign for coaches and fans alike. Daniels, who was sacked five times in the first three weeks, did not suffer a sack for the second game in a row, while catapulting the backs to 172 yards on the ground.
ASU scored on 51% of all meaningful drives (excluding kneel-downs) in the first four weeks. Against UCLA, the Devils went 7-for-10 (70%), including a garbage-time possession late in the fourth quarter.
Similar to Colorado last week, Hill showed a mastery in playcalling, and designed a variety of big hitters that got skill-players the ball in the open. A common criticism of the ASU offense is the wide receivers’ inability to create space in the passing game. Hill has proved he has the ability to scheme his receivers into open space, specifically with veteran receiver Ricky Pearsall who had a career night (132 yards, two touchdowns).
“Coach Hill was out there dialing it up,” Daniels said. “We just took what they were giving us.”
With “hot-shot playcallers” being a trendy topic around the game of football, Hill continues to make a name for himself on the national scale.