Three possessions into Friday’s 28-10 win over Stanford, Arizona State had 242 yards of total offense, 11.0 yards per play and three offensive touchdowns. After redshirt freshman receiver Elijhah Badger took a double reverse 22 yards to the house with 10:24 left in the second quarter, though, the Sun Devils’ offense didn’t score again. Their fourth and final touchdown came on a third quarter pick-six.
This week, offensive coordinator Zak Hill has been focused on dissecting what went wrong for his unit over those final 40 minutes. Against Stanford, the Sun Devils were able to coast to victory on the back of their hot start. On Saturday, a trip to Utah — the only other team still undefeated in conference play — likely won’t offer the same luxury.
The second-half struggles, Hill says, weren’t a symptom of macro issues. Running backs coach Shaun Aguano echoed that sentiment. Aguano admitted that the offense was “a little bit more explosive with (junior quarterback Jayden Daniels) running the ball in the first half,” but cited game script as a reason for conservative play calling and, subsequently, fewer yards per carry.
Additionally, the typical warning signs for an offense weren’t there for the Sun Devils.
After a second quarter fumble, they didn’t turn the ball over again. And, in the second half, they sustained drives of 64 and 48 yards, showing a continued ability to move the football. Those drives ended in a fourth-down stop and a missed 35-yard field goal, respectively.
“You extend some drives, you do some things and then we just weren't able to finish some of those drives,” Hill said. “And that's gotta be a point of emphasis moving into this week, really taking a look at that red zone.”
From an offensive perspective, Arizona State focuses on four key statistics: Turnovers, third down conversion percentage, explosive plays and red zone conversion percentage. On Friday, neither turnovers nor explosive plays were a problem.
But, in the second half, the Sun Devils stalled out in the red zone and struggled to convert on third downs. After converting their first six third downs, they succeeded on just one of their final seven tries across the game’s final 31 minutes, including a key failure on third-and-4 to start the second half.
“We game plan our third downs heavily,” Hill said. “We go into a game and we see what they're doing and try to put together the best game plan when we see fit. And then you're feeling that out through the game and trying to see what their reaction is to our offense and what those down and distances are. You take some time to really look at the third downs and put together what you feel like is a good plan and then hopefully the guys can go execute.”
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Sun Devils not concerned about weather, atmosphere for Utah trip
At this point in the season, any trip to Utah carries a question mark over weather conditions. While Saturday’s forecast calls for 57 degrees and sunny, it’s been a cold, wet week in Salt Lake City. But if that weather unexpectedly continues into the weekend, Arizona State is confident it won’t be affected.
“As far as weather, doesn't matter,” fifth-year senior defensive lineman Tyler Johnson said. “Just got to be able to stick to what we're doing, just continue to pound and grind.”
When asked about potential weather issues Tuesday, multiple players and coaches pointed to last year’s trip to Oregon State. Despite temperatures in the mid-40s and driving rain all night, Arizona State scored seven touchdowns and won 46-33.
“It was the same weather,” redshirt freshman linebacker Will Shaffer said. “It was raining. We went out, you saw the result of that.”
The Sun Devils are holding the same attitude for concerns over the environment at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Last time Arizona State went into an imposing road stadium, they beat themselves with self-inflicted mistakes in a 27-17 loss to BYU.
“We're practicing ways to combat the noise,” fifth-year senior offensive lineman Kellen Diesch said. “We just have to fix our mistakes from BYU. The crowd noise got to us there and we can't let the noise affect us this game.”
On Tuesday morning, the Sun Devils coaching staff brought out large speakers and began blasting simulated crowd noise when the team moved into the 11-on-11 portion of its practice session.
“We know what we're going into,” Shaffer said. “So we're gonna be prepared.”
Arizona State succeeding with creative play calling
On Monday, Herm Edwards admitted that trick plays give him “a little bit of anxiety.”
In his second year as the Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator, though, Hill has shown he isn’t afraid to get creative. On the third touchdown drive Friday, he dialed up a flea flicker and a double reverse on consecutive plays. Hill’s risk-taking worked to perfection. The flea flicker went for 32 yards while the double reverse sprung Badger for a 22-yard score.
“We've got multiple guys in multiple positions that can do some different things so that opens that box up a little bit,” Hill said. “So as you're working on those through fall camp, through spring ball, you kinda get a feel for what coverages you're looking for, what defenses you're looking for. Is it a pressure situation, is it a non-pressure situation? You're just trying to find the right fit for this game. … it's just finding the strengths and the weaknesses for some of those gadget plays and hopefully you dial them up at the right point.”
Michael Matus back at practice
Redshirt junior defensive end Michael Matus was back at practice on Tuesday after missing the win over Stanford. Matus has eight tackles in five games this season.
Senior safety Evan Fields was absent despite playing against Stanford. He missed the previous week’s trip to UCLA. Fifth-year senior cornerback Chase Lucas was also not spotted at practice. He left Saturday’s win with an apparent injury.
Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @theo_mackie.
Source : https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/college/asu/2021/10/13/arizona-state-focused-solving-second-half-offensive-struggles/8430028002/1233