Defensive effort wasted in loss to Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A week after giving up a total of 501 yards to the Missouri offense in a thrilling win at home, the Sun Devil defense held the Illinois offense to 236 total yards in a mistake filled loss to the Fighting Illini, only this time it was the offense that failed to do their part.

Eight penalties for 91 yards, and three turnovers (all by quarterback Brock Osweiler) ended up spelling doom for the Sun Devils in another winnable game against a good opponent that could've propelled ASU into national legitimacy. "You can't play every week and make mistakes and over come them," coach Dennis Erickson pointed out. "You can't do it. On the road, and they're a good football team, and they played very well defensively I thought, but we had so many opportunities and finally took advantage of one and turned the ball back over to get them back in the game to go ahead.

"Very disappointing: two steps forward and one step back, or one step forward and two steps back depending on how you want to look at it. This is a good football team, we're a good football team and we've got to learn from it and we've got a lot of games left."

ASU won the toss and elected to receive, the plays that followed foreshadowed what was a frustrating night for the Sun Devils after a 3-and-out, a short punt, and the loss of Junior Onyeali on the first offensive play for the Fighting Illini.

The extent of Onyeali's injury is still unknown, but as of right now team doctors don't believe it is an ACL, though nothing can be confirmed until Monday. Add to that Cameron Marshall aggravating an ankle injury and what appears to be a concussion to safety Eddie Elder at the end of the game, and this one was more than brutal for the Sun Devils.

The offense appeared to be ready to take on anyone after collecting 492 yards against Missouri one week prior, but the Illinois defense was ready for the Sun Devil offense and caused Brock Osweiler more headaches than Elder is going to have tomorrow.

"He had a couple drops that could've been caught, one that we dropped for a first down," Erickson mentioned. "To me and I'll say this, Brock is a rookie and if anybody thinks he's going to step like he did in those first two games because it's a little different ball game, it's gonna be an automatic grade every time he plays the game then none of us know anything about quarterbacks because you see it all the time.

"The thing about Brock is that he'll learn from this and we were in situations where we had to make plays and we didn't make the plays and that's something that as a quarterback and as an offensive football team that we've got to learn. Again: two different weeks, two different ways, and defensively we stepped up and played pretty well and had enough opportunities on offense to win the game and didn't do it and didn't make the plays when we had to.

"Just missed opportunities," Osweiler pointed to as reason for the loss. "I can't tell you how many times we were in scoring position and didn't come away with points. Whether that was a mistake I made, a wrong route being ran, a penalty, something like that, so just the scoring opportunities where we didn't come away with points and we need to.

"They brought a lot of pressure tonight it seemed like almost every snap. I thought the offensive line played great. They were seeing a lot of different fronts, and lot of different stunts, a lot of different blitzes and they did a great job I thought all night of picking that stuff up." While you wouldn't expect Brock to say anything less, the offensive line gave up six sacks for 23 yards and had their quarterback running for his life most of the game. Throw in the drops from his receivers and this was a tough one for Osweiler and the ASU offense.

"This is gut wrenching to be honest with you," wide receiver Gerell Robinson said. "Everyone is sitting there in disbelief that it happened the way it did so we've just got to get back to the drawing board and go back to work for next week. "It turns into a snow ball effect essentially. One thing turns into another and another and you look up and the game is over. You've got a minute and forty seconds left to go 70 yards and you're in field goal range in the redzone and it didn't click."

ASU now looks ahead to facing Pac-12 South rival USC next Saturday in a game with much bigger implications than this one. Still, getting a win like this on the road from a tough non-conference opponent would've done a lot for this team's confidence moving forward, instead, it seems as if this team isn't much different than last year's, which is a tough pill to swallow for Sun Devil fans.

"We're disappointed," senior linebacker Colin Parker declared. "It's a game that we felt like we could've won. We were in it the whole time and mistakes on both sides of the ball cost us in the end and it's something we've just got to learn from and move on into Pac-12 play.

If failure leads to growth, this ASU team should grow up a lot next week after watching the game film. That being said, there have been plenty of opportunities to learn from the last two years, hopefully this time it clicks.

"You can't have bad plays and you can't have turnovers," Osweiler said. "Shoot, I know I had three of them alone, I don't know how many else there were for the rest of the game, but the margin for error is tiny on the road, you've got to take advantage of every opportunity you get and you've got to make the most of that and tonight we didn't do that.

"But we'll get in the film room tomorrow, we will learn from this game and hopefully it doesn't happen again."

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