Arizona State (2-0) did not have complete mastery over an inferior opponent for the second straight week. But after a 37-10 victory over UNLV (0-2), the Sun Devils came away a more complete team.
Through the first half, the No. 23 Sun Devils appeared out of sync, unable to adapt, and in jeopardy against a Rebels team coming off an overtime 35-33 loss to FCS school Eastern Washington. At halftime, the Sun Devils were teetering on a 14-10 advantage, and the Rebels were set to receive the ball first out of the break.
Then, after six quarters of uninspiring play, the Sun Devil team many expected to see from the opening kick a week ago came alive, outscoring the Rebels 23-0 in the second half.
“We got in at halftime and I said, ‘Okay, it’s the third quarter now. We made the adjustments. You gotta go play, and let’s do this now,” Sun Devil coach Herm Edwards said postgame.
The defense were the true stars of the night. After allowing a few scoring drives in the first half, the Sun Devils put a vise grip on the Rebels offense and allowed only 19 yards the rest of the way.
Darien Butler led the team with eight tackles and two sacks. It has been quite a start to the season for Butler after last week’s two-interception outing against Southern Utah.
“On the defensive side, he means everything. He is literally everything,” cornerback Chase Lucas said. “He’s really the reason our defense and our whole team is like this.”
The second-half performance of the offense was an about-face as well, as the overpowering running game of week one resurfaced and the passing game began to grow wings.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels’ final passing stats of 20-29 for 175 yards and two touchdowns betray the true story on a night where his passing came secondary to running. Midway through the third quarter, Daniels was at 100 yards rushing and only 87 yards passing. He added 25 more rushing yards to reach a career high on 13 attempts.
Almost none of his rushing attempts on the night were designed that way, and it underscored how the passing attack did not truly gel until late into the third quarter. UNLV did not bring much pressure at Daniels, instead choosing to drop players back into coverage.
If the Rebels’ defensive game plan was to force Daniels out of a night of pocket passing, it worked. For the majority of the game, if receivers broke open late in their routes had no bearing on the outcome of the play, as Daniels had viewed open field in front of him and elected to take it.
“I don’t want him running that much,” Edwards said. “That’s too many runs for him, to be quite honest. But he helped win the game for us with his legs.”
The ground attack aside from Daniels was multi-faceted, and led by Rachaad White. Week 2 for White did not have eye-popping numbers but still turned his 22 carries into 90 yards and two touchdowns. White was also featured in the short passing game, catching five of his six targets for a team-high 41 yards. It was the fourth straight game where White has recorded at least two rushing touchdowns.
“Start up front, the big guys on the offensive line,” White said. “They do a great job of dominating the line of scrimmage. Everybody pours into it, all 11 players out there.”
Filling the role of the injured DeaMonte Trayanum as White’s backfield mate was the third leg of the Sun Devils’ running back room, Daniyel Ngata, who averaged over 10 YPG on 6 attempts and scored as well. Ngata was hurt during the second half with a thumb injury, but returned later in the game.
Late in the game, with the score out of reach, the vertical passing game poked its head out for one of the first times this season. Wide receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton put a double move on UNLV freshman cornerback Cameron Oliver, and Daniels put it on him to make the score 34-10. It was a beautifully designed play, not exactly necessary to run in Week 2 of a burgeoning blowout, but could be used later in the season in a more critical situation.
TOUCHDOWN SUN DEVILS @JayD__5 + @_lvbunkley = 6— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) September 12, 2021
In a week where Stanford upset USC and upcoming Arizona State opponent BYU finally knocked down Utah, the Sun Devils all of a sudden find themselves as one of three Pac-12 teams without a loss through two weeks. It wasn’t always perfection against UNLV, but it was a win. At this stage of the season, that is what matters.