It was going to take a consolidated effort. All phases would have to play perfectly, or as close to it as possible. If Arizona State was going to be No. 11 Oklahoma State, they needed to be gutsier.
Instead, the Sun Devils did not parlay a strong first quarter into a full performance, and lost to Oklahoma State 34-17 on Saturday night in Stillwater.
Out the gates, ASU controlled the line of scrimmage for the first quarter. They only got as far as a 3-0 lead, but they out-gained OSU in yards 109 to 19 through two drives. Captain Kyle Soelle (16 tackles, 8 solo) added a second pick in as many games, and the defensive line induced pressure on quarterback Spencer Sanders nearly every play.
In the last nine minutes and 41 seconds of the first half, the Cowboys accelerated for 17 unanswered points. The first touchdown stemmed from a fumble from X Valladay, then punts on back-to-back Sun Devil drives. ASU never got a grip.
Two of those scores, a touchdown and a field goal, came in the last three minutes of the half when ASU went conservative knowing they would receive the second-half kickoff. It did not pay off, and OSU was able to get points heading into the locker room.
“We’re going to try and be stubborn running the ball,” offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas said. “We felt like we had some opportunities there. If you take a step back and convert on some third downs, that opens up some other things.”
The Sun Devils went 2-for-13 (15.3%) on third-down.
Outside the fumble, Valladay was one of two bright spots of the Sun Devil offense, rushing for 118 yards (5.6 yards-per carry) and a touchdown. Elijah Badger reclaimed his spot as the receptions-leading receiver again in week two with six catches for 91 yards and a score.
The Elijah Badger breakout game. How many of you have been waiting a few years for this?— Kevin Redfern (@KevinMRedfern13) September 11, 2022
Everywhere else, it was rough. Jones (12-for-24, 223 yards, one touchdown) faced loads of pressure and was sacked three times, something he says took away from his ability to scramble. He was logged for -17 yards on seven rushing attempts.
“(The pressure) definitely impacted the game,” Jones said. “I had to speed up some of my reads.”
The coaches tinkered with the line all game long, desperately trying to get Jones some support, but to no avail. First, Emmit Bohle subbed in for Isaia Glass at left tackle. Then Glass came in at right tackle for Des Holmes, who made his Sun Devil debut Saturday night.
Defensive penalties became an issue that extended OSU drives. Edwards made note that some were “competitive” penalties (pass interference, holding), but a few roughing-the-passer and late-hit calls led to Cowboy scoring drives.
Other than Soelle’s interception, the defense struggled to stop quarterback Spencer Sanders (21-for-38, 268 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) after the first quarter. They rotated ten different defensive backs and six defensive linemen to combat the speed and size of OSU’s skill players. There were highlights, but the mishaps were drastic.
“They played a good first quarter...magically we just blew two coverages, let the guys go, gave them some easy scores,” Edwards said.
It seemed like every time ASU got within a score, OSU was too quick to strike back with a response.
In the second half, ASU cut the lead down to 20-17 with a 21-yard connection in the endzone between Jones and Badger. That was the third passing touchdown in the last six ASU games.
Just three plays and 54 seconds of game clock later, OSU held a 27-17 lead off a busted coverage flea-flicker play. ASU went three-and-out, and the Cowboys marched down the field for their longest (5 minutes, 19 seconds) drive of the night, and a 34-17 lead.
Sideline deflated, and ballgame.
While winning the time of possession battle by about a minute, the Cowboys dominated the field-position game, starting, on average, at their own 28-yard line. For ASU, it was the 23. It may seem marginal, but that extra play could be the difference between a touchdown or a turnover, and turnovers are momentum-destroyers on the road.
Just look to Valladay’s fumble. After the lone ASU turnover of the night, OSU outscored the Sun Devils 34-14. Was that the difference in this game? Of course not, but it signaled the demise for ASU.
“You’ve got to grow as a football team,” Edwards said. “There’s something we need to find now. (We) came here to win a football game, and that was their intention. It didn’t turn out that way but that was the intention all week, and it never wavered.”