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ASU Football: Rushing attack leads Sun Devils to sloppy, blowout win over Southern Utah

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There were bad moments

Zac BonDurant/House of Sparky

The final result of Arizona State’s (1-0) 2021 season opener was never in question.

When Southern Utah (0-2) made the proverbial march to the slaughterhouse as 45-point underdogs Thursday night in Tempe, the only real question mark was by how much Arizona State would beat them, and how the Sun Devils would look doing it.

The answer to the first part comes in the form of a comfortable 41-14 victory. The second part is much more complicated. A dominant run game and suffocating defense led the way, while a slew of penalties and a missing in action passing attack will leave the Sun Devil coaching staff with a packed agenda for this week’s practices.

“I told the guys that the Sun Devils actually played the Sun Devils tonight,” coach Herm Edwards said. “It was a sloppy game, embarrassing football, but that being said, I’ve never had a bad win.”

The Arizona State running backs are as advertised. Dominant. The two-headed monster of Rachaad White and DeaMonte Trayanum ran wild on the Thunderbird defense. Each of the team’s first four touchdowns of the season came from White and Trayanum, with each back collecting two apiece in the first half.

The forecasted blowout took shape on the game’s first drive. After two quick incompletions from Southern Utah quarterback Justin Miller, DeAndre Pierce picked him off on third down, returning the takeaway to the Southern Utah 3-yard line. On the next play, Arizona State’s first offensive snap of the season, Trayanum walked into the end zone untouched.

“Our offensive line did what we expected them to do,” White said. “Those are five guys who are going to come out every week and compete. It felt great to be out there in front of the fans because that’s my first time ever seeing that many people. Our rushing offense won’t get complacent we’ll keep working.”

As Edwards frequently mentioned during his postgame press conference, most of the opening half was dictated by laundry on the field. The Sun Devils committed 11 of 15 penalties, costing them 120 yards. Laundry flew against ASU on what seemed like half the first half snaps, with infractions ranging from simple holds to facemasks, roughing the kicker and passer, and targeting. Defensive end Tyler Johnson was ejected for committing the targeting violation during the first quarter.

“I just told the team we have to clean this up,” quarterback Jayden Daniels said of his team’s sloppy play. “We’re a better team than Southern Utah, but at the end of the day if we play Washington or Utah those things can hurt us.”

Sun Devil fans encountered a scare in the beginning of the second half when Daniels went down after completing a pass. The third-year signal caller was down for nearly five minutes, with trainers treating what was evidently a cramp in both of his legs. Daniels was helped to the locker room, but jogged back out to the sideline a short time later.

With the score as lopsided as it was, he did not return. Backup Trenton Bourguet filled in modestly, completing three of his five passing attempts for 38 yards. He facilitated the latter half of ASU’s dominance on the ground leading a scoring drive that ended with sophomore Daniyel Ngata finding the end zone on a 9-yard rush.

“Jayden cramped up. I told him that he just wanted some TV time, but he’s fine,” Edwards said. “(Trenton) can run the offense well. He’s not going to be the runner that Jayden is but he can run things.”

While it may seem like nitpicking to harp on the negatives in a 27-point win, the Arizona State shortcomings were glaring against a far inferior opponent. The special teams unit had a forgettable performance, highlighted by two failed PAT attempts, a kickoff out of bounds, and a failure to cover a Thunderbird onside kick.

True freshman Eddie Czaplicki was a bright spot for Sean Slocum’s unit, booting four impressive punts. The first of his career was downed inside the 1-yard line late in the first quarter. DJ Taylor and Rachaad White each had impressive punt returns of 25-plus yards.

“Look, we’re a better team. I don’t like saying that but we are. But that coach is a good football coach. It’s a well coached team. Hopefully, the guys will take note of what we have to improve on, but for the most part, it was fun to win a football game.”