Boy, if I had a nickel for every time a pack of cougars spoiled the night for group of young men from Tempe (ha!).
All jokes aside, No. 19 Arizona State’s effort against No. 23 BYU Saturday night was comically bad. The Sun Devils committed 16 penalties and turned the ball over four times in what was one of the single ugliest games this veteran writer has ever seen in his time watching ASU football.
Here are the major issues.
The Devils killed themselves with 121 yards of penalties. Credit some of that to the crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. They were loud all night which led to several false start penalties by the Sun Devils. I’d expect more discipline from a team loaded with upperclassmen, but what do I know? So far for the season (in only three games) ASU has a whopping 36 penalties for 319 yards.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels (in maybe the sloppiest game of his career) threw two interceptions and operated a broken offense all night. On several occasions, Daniels attempted a running back handoff to the wrong side. He went left and the back went right. I lost count on how many broken plays happened, but when you can’t do a simple thing like hand the ball off to the running back, you know there are major issues right now with the offense.
ASU’s defensive secondary also could not wait to get out of Utah. The unit allowed big pass plays all night and lost coverage on a couple of those BYU touchdowns. Jack Jones’ brilliant interception before halftime kept the Sun Devils in the game, but that was about it for positive plays from this game.
Game changing play.
Late in the third quarter, with BYU clinging to a 21-17 lead and the momentum shifting to ASU, Cougars QB Jaren Hall was picked off by Sun Devils linebacker Merlin Robertson. The ASU defender had nothing but green grass in front of him for nearly 70 yards, but BYU running back Tyler Allgeier chased him down from behind, jumped on his back and punched the ball loose. Robertson’s fumble gave the ball back to BYU at the 15-yard line.
ASU would have taken the lead on that play had Robertson scored or it would’ve set up the offense on a very short field.
The literal punch of the football gave the Devils a figurative punch to the gut on that sequence. ASU never recovered.
Let’s recap what happened.
The first play of the game foreshadowed the rest of the night when kickoff returner Geordon Porter (filling in for injured returner D.J. Taylor) fumbled the opening kickoff, which set up BYU at the 12 yard line. The Cougars punched the ball into the endzone three plays later for an easy 7-0 lead.
ASU responded with a solid 7-play, 71-yard drive and a Rachaad White touchdown to tie the game early in the first quarter.
Could the Sun Devils wipe away that early mistake and run away from BYU?
The 2nd quarter was all Cougars. BYU quarterback Jaren Hall connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass to former Chandler High School wide receiver Gunner Romney to make it a 14-7 game. Four minutes later, Hall found tight end Isaac Rex on a 15-yard touchdown. The first half quickly got away and the Sun Devils trailed 21-7 at the half.
The 2nd half has been a different story for ASU in the first three games this season. The Devils seem to wake up after halftime and play their best ball. Saturday’s 3rd quarter in Provo was the same case.
ASU started to chip away at the BYU lead thanks to the rushing efforts of running back Daniyel Ngata. For some reason, Ngata was not used in the first half, but he came out firing in the second half, rushing 8 times for 82 yards and a touchdown. Starting running back Rachaad White ran the ball 15 times for 71 yards, 1 touchdown, and had 9 catches for 65 yards. White was ASU’s leading receiver in the game.
A 40-yard Christian Zendejas field goal with under four minutes to play in the third quarter made it a 21-17 game. ASU would get no closer the rest of the way.
BYU’s backup quarterback Baylor Romney was pressed into duty late in the fourth quarter and led the Cougars to a game-clinching touchdown with just over a minute to play. Watch as he nearly falls down before tossing a three yard score to Isaac Rex in the back of the end zone.
What to take away from this game.
On the bright side, it’s a non-conference loss on the road. ASU has a clean slate as it begins the Pac-12 part of the schedule next Saturday at home against a miserable Colorado Buffaloes team that lost 30-0 to Minnesota this week.
Literally everything else is a problem however. The Devils don’t play with urgency. They have no discipline to stop committing penalties. Daniels still does not have a reliable receiver to throw to. ASU is struggling to score points despite putting up more yards than the opponent. Defensive starters started dropping like flies late Saturday, so we’ll have to see who’s healthy enough to play this week.
ASU has started the 2021 season with two lackluster games against bad opponents and one miserable game against a good opponent to show us who they really are.