Arizona State is rolling into week seven fresh off of a bye, which comes just in time to host the #5 Washington Huskies. The Sun Devils have struggled against nearly every opponent they’ve faced so far, coming into the second half of the season with a 2-3 record. There’s been continuous improvements made on the field, but will it be enough?
Going into this season, expectations were relatively low for the Sun Devils. The last two seasons, Todd Graham had over-promised and underperformed. Although there are some outside factors that play into it, there’s no reason that Arizona State should end with three losing seasons in a row.
Graham is towards the top of the list nationally when it comes to coaches that are in the hot seat. He knows he has to lead his team to a winning season, as well as a bowl game victory. However, with a 2-3 record and 7 games left, the future looks bleak.
There’s no question as to if the team has the heart to persevere and keep fighting. It shows on the field that they are giving their all. The question is if they can execute offensive plays and step up defensively. If the team is disciplined enough to make the necessary improvements.
The Sun Devils have a tough schedule ahead of them. The one advantage the Sun Devils have with their remaining schedule is that four of the seven games will take place in Tempe.
Arizona State’s home schedule will be no cake walk. In fact, they will face most of the tougher opponents at home. They will host Washington (#5), USC (#13), Colorado, and a seemingly improved Arizona. The Sun Devils will travel to face Utah, UCLA, and Oregon State. Of the road opponents, none are ranked in the top-25. Realistically, the Sun Devils will most likely be able to win three of the remaining games this season. Anything more will be a huge victory.
The biggest key to winning games will be defensive stops. The Sun Devils have to be able to stop the number of third down conversions, rushing yards, and passing yards. The players need to be disciplined and aggressive. When they play aggressive and turn up the heat, it’s a whole new ball game.
ASU’s defense is ranked 109th in third down conversions, allowing opponents to convert 45.5% of the time. The only opponent they are scheduled to face that allows more is Oregon State at 53.2%.
The Sun Devil defense has also allowed one player to single-handedly annihilate them. The most recent examples of this are Rashaad Penny and Bryce Love. Arizona State has allowed an average of 190.6 rushing yards per game so far this season. It is crucial that the defense improves in the run game, especially for their game against Arizona. The Wildcats are averaging 319.4 rushing yards per game.
The defense cannot allow quarterbacks to look like the next top NFL draft pick either. So far this season they’ve struggled, allowing an average of 293.6 yards per game. This is going to be the biggest factor in the game against UCLA. Quarterback Josh Rosen leads the NCAA for passing yards, and UCLA’s offense has the highest average passing yards per game at 435.8.
On the offensive side of the ball, as long as the o-line can provide coverage, things should continue to roll. Manny Wilkins is towards the top of the quarterback rankings in the NCAA right now with 1452 passing yards. With receivers like Jalen Harvey and N’Keal Harry, an air raid offense shouldn’t be an issue as long as Wilkins has enough time. The ground game could use some improvement, but if the necessary blocks are there, Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard should be able to tear the field up.
Anything can happen on any given weekend. Although highly unlikely, the Sun Devils could win every remaining game this season. At this point in time, though, they must put their nose to the grindstone and focus on the game right in front of them each week. Right now, the upcoming obstacle is Washington, which will be no easy task. The last time the Sun Devils defeated a top-5 team was in 1996 when they stunned Nebraska with a 19-0 victory.