If all good things in life come in waves, surf season in Tempe has been postponed.
As 20.5-point favorites at home, Arizona State (1-2) dropped a shocker to Eastern Michigan (2-1) by a score of 30-21.
Following a matchup in which Arizona State conceded 197 total rushing yards in Stillwater, the ante was upped by Eastern Michigan on Saturday. Eagles’ rushers combined for over 300 yards on the ground, highlighted by a phenomenal 257-yard performance from senior running back Samson Evans.
“You have to have gap integrity,” coach Herm Edwards said postgame. “(Samson) found a seam.”
The game was seemingly out of the Sun Devils’ favor from the opening kick, which flew out of bounds, setting the Eagles up with a short, 60-yard field. The early misfortunes would continue for the Sun Devils for nearly the entire quarter, as Eastern Michigan secured a field goal, a touchdown, and back-to-back three and outs by the ASU offense.
Having led through the first quarter against NAU and Oklahoma State, a 10-0 deficit through 13 minutes was uncharted waters for this year’s team. Seemingly sensing the unease on the sideline, junior defensive back Kejuan Markham did his best to re-ignite the inferno with an interception near the end of the first quarter, which led to an Andre Johnson touchdown grab.
Through 15 minutes, the score was a very doable 10-7 deficit. However, this is as close as the Sun Devils got to the lead all night.
.@eXjones6 tucks it & runs it in himself— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) September 18, 2022
: Pac-12 Network
#ForksUp | #O2V pic.twitter.com/RcBw2ABAp4
Eastern Michigan answered ASU’s call with a lengthy 13-play drive to shave nearly seven minutes off the clock and add 7 more points to the Eagles’ total.
This drive was symbolic of how the rest of the game would go for the Sun Devils, with running back Samson Evans beginning his take over on the ground along with a big 16-yard scramble from quarterback Austin Smith made possible by great offensive line play. Not a team to be beaten in the trenches often, head coach Herm Edwards didn’t sugarcoat it.
“They physically dominated us,” Edwards said.
Following the restoration of the 10-point lead, Arizona State’s offense started putting some plays together. While X Valladay had serious trouble getting past the line of scrimmage early on, Emory Jones began to extend plays on his feet, leading to a 3-yard scramble to cap off the Sun Devils’ second straight score.
Despite the near six minutes off from Eastern Michigan’s bruising ground game, the Arizona State defense wasn’t ready for another show on the ground. EMU quickly gained 20+ yards on the legs of Evans and Smith to set up an unexpected shot downfield to Tanner Knue for 42 yards and set the Eagles up deep in Sun Devil territory. After scoring their third touchdown of the half a couple of plays later, Arizona State would walk off the field to a chorus of boos, trailing Eastern Michigan 24-14.
Boo birds continue to rain down on Sun Devil Stadium, even during the go devils chant. Pretty crazy but not surprised.@HouseOfSparky pic.twitter.com/CGorxZSkIF— Matt Venezia (@Matt_Venezia) September 18, 2022
What got Arizona State to victory against NAU and kept them around at Oklahoma State was running back X Valladay. With his 16 yards of rushing going into the locker room, something was obviously off with this offense and not just on the ground game. Out of the gate though, both aspects of the offense looked poised for repair.
Receiving the halftime kickoff, Emory Jones went to work with a couple of early chunks plays with the run game opening up a bit for Valladay and Daniyel Ngata. While Valladay returned to his usual form and compiled his third-straight game off 100+ rushing yards, the rest of the offense lagged behind him.
A deep shot post-route to Zeek Freeman was dropped on what would’ve been a tide-changing score. Opportunities to find the end zone with Elijah Badger also went by the wayside later in the quarter, not to mention Jones’s overthrow of Giovanni Sanders which could’ve also been six points.
Deep shot from Jones to Zeek Freeman bounces off Freeman's hands incomplete. A near carbon-copy of the missed-connection vs NAU.— Kevin Redfern (@KevinMRedfern13) September 18, 2022
After the game, Jones cited the team’s lack of practice and execution in those specific situations as their downfall.
“It all boils down to us executing and doing what we’re coached to do,” Jones said. “Whatever play is called, executing that play and giving 100 percent effort. We did that sometimes, and
“It’s a different score if we catch those balls,” Edwards said.
By leaving these points on the board, Arizona State only empowered the outstanding play of the Eastern Michigan defense. Aside from a 44-yard house call by X Valladay which seemingly brought the urgency back to the Sun Devils’ bench at the outset of the fourth quarter, Arizona State would not score in the second half of the game.
Following Valladay’s run to cut the deficit down to 27-21, Eastern Michigan drained out the clock with the run game that befuddled the Sun Devils. Their ensuing drive would silence Sun Devil Stadium as Evans tore up the ground for a 32-yard run to move the chains on a critical third down.
Before Saturday, that would’ve been nearly a third of his career high for rushing yards in a game, as the senior had not topped triple digits on the ground before his trip to the desert.
With a field goal to notch the lead up to multiple possessions with under five minutes to play, the pressure was all on Arizona State. That pressure forced a fumble from Jalin Conyers, which when recovered by EMU, all but clinched the Sun Devils’ second straight defeat by a final of 30-21.
A noteworthy loss
The loss to Eastern Michigan was Arizona State’s first defeat at home to a non-power conference opponent since falling to UNLV in 2008.
Herm Edwards, Ray Anderson, Michael Crow pic.twitter.com/4D59aEDY4J— Chris Karpman (@ChrisKarpman) September 18, 2022
“We’re all disappointed,” Edwards said. “I’m probably more disappointed than anybody.”
There isn’t much room for head-scratching after this game as the answer for the loss was obvious to Edwards.
“It was the run game, you got to give them credit, they stuck to it,” Edwards said.
While the Sun Devil faithful surely shared similar sentiments, mercy is not being shown by their schedule, as they must “get over this one,” and prepare for top-15 ranked Utah’s trip to Tempe next Saturday.