The fourth-quarter deluge that overwhelmed Arizona State in its season-opening loss to Texas A&M seemingly spilled over into Week 2.
The Sun Devils won a 35-21 decision over FCS opponent Cal Poly Saturday at home, though the final score isn’t necessarily indicative of Arizona State’s lackadaisical play. The visiting Mustangs were tied at 21 with the Sun Devils going into the fourth quarter.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham seems externally unfazed.
“We've pretty much moved on to the next week,” Graham said in his weekly press conference, via TheSunDevils.com. “It goes down in the column as a win, and no one will ever talk about it after this week.”
Internally, however, expect the always-feisty Graham and his staff to use the sluggish performance of the past five quarters to push the Sun Devils in their nonconference finale Friday against former Western Athletic Conference rival New Mexico.
New Mexico at Arizona State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Arizona State -28
Three Things to Watch
1. Offensive line play
Questions about the offensive line persisted prior to Arizona State’s season opener, and the unit’s play two games into the campaign do nothing to dispel any doubts.
Quarterback Mike Bercovici was under constant duress against Texas A&M, taking nine sacks. He was sacked again last week against Cal Poly.
Pass protection has been lackluster, and running lanes are not opening. Kalen Ballage’s absence from the backfield due to mono certainly limits how the Sun Devils can attack via the run, but their offense needs to produce more than just 3.95 yards per carry to be effective.
2. Defending the option
For the second consecutive week, the Arizona State defense is tasked with containing an option offense. Graham said Cal Poly’s version of the option was “a very difficult scheme to play.” Expect more of the same Friday from New Mexico.
Upon his arrival as New Mexico head coach, Bob Davie hired offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse away from FCS powerhouse Sam Houston State. DeBesse ran a spread hybrid that made Sam Houston State one of the most prolific offenses in the subdivision and powered the Bearkats to the national title game.
At New Mexico, he’s overseen a more traditional triple-option. The result is an offense that last year produced 310 yards per game, and this season has 563 yards in two games.
3. A change of perspective
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell moved from the sideline to the booth for the Cal Poly game, a decision made partially in response to the Sun Devils’ uncharacteristically anemic showing against Texas A&M, and partially due to the abrupt departure of running backs coach Bo Graham before the season.
Arizona State faces obvious adjustment with Graham gone and Norvell adapting to his new perspective on the offense. Up against a New Mexico defense that surrendered 321 yards through the air and almost 11 yards an attempt last week against Tulsa, expect Bercovici to get the green light to air it out more.
The last five quarters are some of the worst football Arizona State has played in Graham’s tenure.
“Are we playing our best football? No, we're not,” he said. “We've got to get better.”
Even so, the Sun Devils should have no problem opening Pac-12 play next week against USC on the right side of .500. Davie has New Mexico moving in the right direction in his time there, but the Lobos are nowhere near built to contend with Arizona State over four quarters.
The key is for Arizona State to assert its dominance early. Force punts early into a few Lobo drives to keep the defense off the field, score on first-and-second quarter possessions, and remove all belief by halftime.