Arizona State’s football coaches used part of this off week to reflect on the first half of the season and chart a course for the second, which begins Oct. 11 against Stanford in Tempe.
The Sun Devils are keeping details of their findings private, but it’s clear that, “Hey, we’ve been running the ball way too much” is not among their conclusions.
Coach Herm Edwards ordered a drastic change in style after the loss to San Diego State three games ago. In its last three games, ASU ran the ball 64 percent of the time, compared to about 43 percent of the time in the first three games.
Look for that to continue.
“Oh, I like the way we play,” Edwards said. “I like running the ball. I just think you can control the game better that way.”
But is it working? That can be debated. For every point, there is a counterpoint.
ASU has lost two of three since making the change.
But the two losses were on the road at seventh-ranked Washington (5-1) and 19th-ranked Colorado.
The two losses each were by a touchdown, so ASU wasn’t blown out.
But as Edwards reminded us a few years ago, keeping the score close isn’t the goal. Maybe throwing the ball more would have helped ASU score once or twice more in each of those games.
Running the ball 64 percent of the time helps protect a young defense that features three freshmen who start and another who is playing a lot.
But it also means that the Sun Devils’ best player, receiver N’Keal Harry, doesn’t get the ball as often.
“I just think, right now, that’s the way for us to win,” Edwards said. “I say that, we get down a couple scores, we might have to throw it 50 times. I dread that. I really do. A lot of things go wrong when the ball leaves the quarterback’s hands. We want to be a balanced offense (but) we’re running it pretty good right now and it’s keeping us in football games.”
But can it win them a football game against anyone other than Oregon State?
To be successful in the next six games, I think the Sun Devils will need more production from their passing game. That’s not a plea to be equally balanced between run and pass. As Washington State coach Mike Leach recently said, balance means distributing the ball to the guys who can do something with it.
That can be done via the spread offense, or the wishbone, he said.
In Arizona State’s case, that means letting your senior quarterback, Manny Wilkins, throw more often to perhaps the best receiver in the country, Harry. Frank Darby and Kyle Williams are talented targets, too.
“I know we probably started the year out looking a certain way, and now we’re kind of morphing into something else,” coordinator Rob Likens said. “We’re just kind of finding out what our guys can do the best.”
Relying on the run game made sense against Oregon State two weeks ago. The Beavers couldn’t tackle running back Eno Benjamin. It also seemed like a wise game plan against the Huskies in Seattle.
But it failed last week in Boulder. ASU attempted 18 passes the entire game. It was only the third time since 1999 that the Sun Devils had attempted no more than 18 passes in a game.
Despite the reliance on the run game, it ranks 111th in the country in time of possession.
On Wednesday, Likens talked about his desire for the Sun Devils to score two more touchdowns a game. It’s difficult to see how that’s going to happen running the ball 64 percent of the time, unless they are going to hand the ball to Harry instead of throwing it to him.
Running the ball does shorten the game, literally. Each of ASU’s last three games has taken just a bit more than three hours to play.
Stanford likes to run it, too, so Thursday night’s game might come in under that. That’s good for reporters on deadline and for those who have to be at work or school Friday morning.
I’m not so sure it’s the best thing for ASU.