Arizona State made a concerted effort to be on its best behavior Saturday night. The Sun Devils have washed the taste of soap out of their mouths, emerged from their timeout, and are ready to show the world that they can play a buttoned up, nearly penalty-free game of football. For most of the night, they did just that.
In a 35-13 victory over Colorado in Tempe, ASU was flagged seven times. The majority of these fouls occurred on special teams. A problem sure, but to keep the offensive and defensive units mostly clean is a big step in the right direction for Herm Edwards and his staff.
“I told them before we came out of the locker room about not playing cautious,” Edwards said. “I looked at them and said I know what you guys are gonna do you’re gonna get a penalty on the first play. Don’t do that to me, I’m too old for that. So they waited until the second quarter.
“If they’d have had a penalty on the first play I would’ve had a heart attack.”
The players certainly got an earful from coaches and one another during the team’s hard week of practice.
“We were harping on the penalties all week in practice, like, why can’t we play a clean game,” linebacker Darien Butler said.
Of course, nobody’s perfect, and the referees still found reasons to flag the Sun Devils on a few occasions. Most notably, walk-on freshman BJ Green was called for a personal foul late hit on the quarterback, coupled with targeting. Upon review, the on field call was upheld and Green was ejected just a few minutes into the second quarter.
“Unfortunately, when you teach tackling is you can’t hit a guy with your helmet anymore, in his chest. When you hit him, your helmet automatically goes up under his chin, and that’s targeting,” Edwards said. “With Green, fabulous rush, fabulous game, and as soon as he hit him I said he’s done. It wasn’t trying to be dirty.”
A penalty driven narrative was developing following ASU’s first three games of the season, and for good reason. The team was showing that it consistently couldn’t get out of its own way. For both the coaching staff and the players, shedding this reputation was a priority Saturday night.
“We know we can’t win many games with that many penalties,” quarterback Jayden Daniels said. “We’re a good team when we play a clean game.”
Edwards has made it a point to emphasize just that, and is quick to remind fans that his team can be one of the best when it plays a disciplined game.
“We had seven, which is still a little too many, you want to be in that five range,” Edwards said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always had officials at practice. We have the total penalties of practice and before the next practice I show them. This week it was more of our guys just focusing in on not giving it that extra, getting into a shoving match.”
Arizona State’s discipline will be tested again next weekend in Pasadena, as a road matchup with UCLA awaits. Much like BYU, the Bruins will be able to exploit any procedural mishaps and post-whistle extracurricular penalties.
“We’re going on the road again, and that can’t be part of our personality when we go on the road,” Edwards said. “Especially against a good team like UCLA.”