ASU Football: Sun Devils look for themselves against Colorado

After a frustrating defeat in their first away game of the season against BYU in Provo, Utah, the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-1) are a bunch of fear.

The fourth year in the Herm Edwards era has been billed as the season when it all comes together in Tempe. The season and program are still in the early stages of the journey, but the Sun Devils ride won’t be any less turbulent from now on, as the often cannibalized Pac-12 conference season kicks off with a return to Tempe this weekend.

First up are the Colorado Buffaloes (1-2), a team that has sometimes impressed and sometimes depressed the Boulder fan base. The Sun Devils haven’t put together a full four quarter to three games in the 2021 season. Maybe the last week will serve as a wake-up call for the team, or maybe it will be the next slip down a long slide towards a football season of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises.

The Sun Devils left Provo with far more questions and few answers after a 27-17 defeat. If you take into account almost every statistic but one, the Sun Devils should be 3-0. The Sun Devils passed more yards (265-217), ran more yards (161-144), and owned the soccer ball longer (32: 23-27: 37).

But of course there is one number. The Sun Devils were called to 16 penalties (!!!) for 121 yards. After that everything was denouement. Edwards was taken aback in the aftermath and said the team was not training the way they played.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels got off to a good start to the season, but it wasn’t the breakthrough into the first round of NFL draft projections that many pundits had anticipated. The Junior Signal Caller has a completion percentage of over 70% and two touchdowns against three interceptions. The caveat is that the Sun Devil receivers didn’t do much help to their quarterback. A real number one has yet to show up in three weeks, but there’s a talented cast of characters who could take center stage.

Three Sun Devil receivers dwarfed receiving 100 yards. They are LV Bunkley-Shelton, Johnny Wilson, and Ricky Pearsall. The lead receiver isn’t actually a receiver, he runs back to Rachaad White with 15 receives for 117 yards.

That underscores the problem with Arizona State over three weeks. The vertical passing game is currently MIA Daniels is a talented passer on the field as evidenced by his time throwing against former sun devil Brandon Aiyuk. Does the team have that element or player this season? The coaches and players have expressed increasing urgency to find it before the conference game.

Which Colorado defense shows up on Saturday night is likely to determine the outcome of the Sun Devil offensive. If it’s the version that Texas A&M was played in, this is going to be a tough sled for the state of Arizona, especially if DeaMonte Trayanum isn’t 100% healthy. If it’s the version Minnesota was played in, the Sun Devils have a chance to develop an offensive identity and rhythm to build on before tough conference play.

The sun devils also had their defensive battles. Darien Butler was a bright spot for three weeks with 10 tackles and two interceptions. Last season’s dependable Sun Devil secondary hasn’t found its way yet in 2021. Last week came two BYU results on touchdown passes that barely saw a Sun Devil defender.

These are two teams that reduce defeat. For Colorado, a loss this week brings the team to 1-3 two weeks after nearly scoring a marquee win. The state of Arizona still has the Pac-12 South up for grabs after UCLA allowed two last-minute touchdowns against the state of Fresno at a loss.

What the past week has made very clear is that the Pac-12 still has a long way to go to be considered legitimate. But one team will leave the field as the winner on Saturday evening. If it’s going to be Arizona State, all of their goals for the season will still be within reach.

There’s going to be a lot of cleaning up going on, but the Sun Devils are the better team. With the conference game kicking off this week, it’s time to play like this.

The game can be seen on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. MST.

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