Arizona State’s future in the Pac-12 is coming to an end and the first test of where the program stands was on Saturday night against future Big-12 opponent Oklahoma State. In a 27-15 frustrating loss, the ASU defense held their own and gave the offense chances to control the game. But in the end, it was a vanishment of second half offense and late down execution for the Suns Devils that led to a disappointing second game of the season.
The 27-15 loss was good, it was bad and certainly showed some glaring, ugly issues for the Sun Devils.
The Good - Defensive pressure
Following a bizarre 24-21 win against Southern Utah in Week 1, which saw the Thunderbird put up only 14 points and 226 total yards of offense, the Arizona State defense was asked to step up and limit the offensive push from an undoubtedly tougher opponent in OSU.
The defensive response was strong in Week 2, especially in the first half where the Cowboys rushed for net zero yards. The push from the defensive line was a remarkable improvement that head coach Kenny Dillingham acknowledged after the game.
“Our defensive line did a really good job getting into the backfield,” said Dillingham. “First half, we did a phenomenal job stopping the run.”
Leading the charge was junior defensive end B.J. Green, who had two sacks on the night. One of which came on a critical third-and-4 to push the Cowboys out of field goal range. The Sun Devils finished with three sacks and six tackles for a loss, amounting to 20 negative yards in the backfield for OSU.
Green’s breakout can be attested to the work ethics and preparation leading into the season according to Dillingham.
“He’s been a phenomenal player for us all camp and all spring,” Dillingham said. “ He’s a great worker. He’s got great energy. I’m glad I have him on our team and I’m glad I get to coach him.”
In all, the defense gave the offense enough opportunity to take command of the game, after all, it was a one possession game with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Sun Devil defense was on the field for 63 snaps. More notably, the defense was on the field for more than 10 minutes in the final quarter on Saturday.
“They were playing so many snaps and our depth isn’t quite where we would like it to be and they started leaning on us and it showed,” said Dillingham. “We got to do a better job on offense, keeping the defense off the field, and then defensively getting off the field.”
The bad - Late down execution
On the offensive side of the ball, the lack of experience and confidence showed blatantly throughout the game. The offense put themselves in a position to execute in late down situations, but between freshman quarterback Jaden Rashada’s errant throws and junior running back Cam Skattebo’s struggles to find a gap, the Sun Devils fell short of the chains throughout the disappointing night.
“We didn’t put together a drive and you’re not going to win many football games when you’re not converting third-and-1’s and fourth-and-1’s,” said Dillingham. “We were getting into manageable down-and-distances and then we weren’t getting the job done and we have to do a better job as a staff, putting our players in the best position to be successful.”
Overall on the night, ASU elected to leave the offense on the field on fourth down five times. They were able to move the chains only once on said attempts.
ASU was also 6-for-15 in third down conversions.
That’s 3️⃣ fourth down stops for the Pokes‼️ pic.twitter.com/b3IsFTMsUa— OSU Cowboy Football (@CowboyFB) September 10, 2023
Two consecutive plays on ASU’s own 34-yard line with just under seven minutes remaining in a one possession game were critical. A third-and-1 direct snap to junior tight end Jaylin Conyers went for a 1-yard loss after an excellent initial push from the OSU defensive line. A fourth-and-2 from ASU’s own 35-yard line resulted in a swing pass intended for Skattebo that was thrown out of reach down the sideline, giving the Cowboys the ball in prime field position.
Dillingham was confident in his chances of his fourth down play call, even backed up in their own territory.
“Fourth-and-1, statistically, you’re going to convert over a 75% chance,” Dillingham said. “And if you don’t convert, it’s like a turnover. The issue is we didn’t convert those. And when you don’t convert those, it is a turnover.”
Arizona State turned the ball over once in the game from a Rashada interception. But turned the ball over on downs four times.
“You’re playing the odds that you’re going to convert the majority of those and we felt like we had a good plan going in those scenarios and we just didn’t convert,” Dillingham said. “And that’s the story of the game. If you convert fourth-and-one, I think the game is different.”
The ugly - Second half offense
Three total points between two games have been scored by the Arizona State offense in the second half. Simply put, the Sun Devil offense has not made adjustments well enough to put points on the board and keep the team in games. Finishing games has been the major issue for ASU, not starting them. In both ASU’s first drives at home, the offense was able to march down and put up six to begin the game. It’s been consistent gameplay from ASU that has yet to be seen through two games, and Dillingham puts the blame on himself.
“We have to be more creative to find a way to be successful throughout the entire football game, and I take responsibility for that,” said Dillingham. “Our players are playing their butts off. Our players are playing hard. I got to do a better job at putting them in positions to be successful.”
Midway through the third quarter, a definite lull took over both offenses in the game after several punts were traded. Then an ugly drive riddled with penalties fired up the young Dillingham and the home crowd.
“Too many times we’re still complaining and it starts with me,” said Dillingham. “I got to stop complaining to the referees, even though there’s some things I know I want to talk to them about. I got to do it in a manner that reflects how I want my team to react. So once again, that starts with myself.”