One can certainly understand why Arizona State Sun Devils fans may be looking for a bit of reassurance from their team during Friday’s game against New Mexico.
Heading into the season, many experts picked the Sun Devils to be in the national championship picture. But after a cringe-worthy loss to Texas A&M and an agonizingly close win over FCS team Cal Poly, expectations have dropped significantly.
Can Arizona State head into Pac-12 play with some momentum? Here are three questions and a prediction for the Devils’ home game against New Mexico on Friday at 7 p.m.
1. Can the Devils finish their drives?
Arizona State didn’t have a problem moving the ball during most of its win against Cal Poly. The trouble was in actually finishing those long drives with touchdowns. The Sun Devils had two drives in the second half that ended inside the Mustangs’ 20-yard line – including one at the 1-yard line – and resulted in zero points. That simply can’t continue to happen.
New Mexico gives the Devils an excellent chance to make things right in that regard. The Lobos are coming off a game in which they gave up exactly 600 total yards in a 40-21 loss to Tulsa, ASU coach Todd Graham’s former team. (New Mexico also committed 14 penalties for 154 yards in that game.) Against the Lobos, can ASU finish off its drives with TDs?
2. Will Berco make better decisions?
Mike Bercovici’s ability and arm strength are not in question, but his decision-making might be. ASU’s senior quarterback had nice-looking numbers against Cal Poly (23 of 35, 283 yards, three touchdowns), but his point-blank interception in the third quarter of Saturday’s game was awful, and he was ineffective through large portions of ASU’s loss to Texas A&M.
Berco had immense expectations placed on him heading into this season, and perhaps some of that pressure has gotten to him. The good news: A game against a defense as atrocious as New Mexico’s could be just what the QB needs in order to boost his confidence. Can he get on track in time for ASU’s big Pac-12 opener against USC on Sept. 26?
3. Will the Devils do better against the triple option?
Boy, do the Sun Devils struggle against those few remaining college teams that run the run-heavy triple-option offense. They gave up 313 rushing yards against Navy in the 2012 Kraft Bowl, and they yielded 284 yards on the ground Saturday against Cal Poly.
As fate would have it, the Lobos also run the triple-option. They have six rushers with over 50 yards through their first two games, including quarterback Lamar Jordan, who has 97 yards on 14 carries. Will the Devils do better against the triple-option than they did against Cal Poly and Navy, or will it be a triple-whammy (pun intended) for the Sun Devils on Saturday?
The Sun Devils have one more non-conference game to reassure the maroon and gold faithful who (understandably) believe the sky is falling. Friday’s matchup against an ineffective, undisciplined New Mexico squad at home is an excellent opportunity to do so.
ASU may struggle once again to defend the triple option, but look for the Devils to begin to put things together on offense. If they fail to do so against the Lobos… eek.
ASU 48, New Mexico 21