First-year Head Coach Todd Graham's insistence on playing highly disciplined football with minimum turnovers, penalties and preventing other mental errors has translated into dominating and impressive victories for ASU. In those three wins the Sun Devils outscored their opponents 145-27. Enough said.
The lone loss thus far came on the road at Missouri, 24-20. It was a contest that was in sharp contrast to how ASU played until that week (and in the week to follow for that matter). Several miscues on offense and special teams negated a valiant effort by an ASU defense who is so far shaping up to being one of the best units Tempe has seen in the last dozen or so years.
On Saturday afternoon in Berkeley, it seemed at times as if ASU was ripe for another disappointing road game, let alone at a venue, Memorial Stadium, where it hasn't won since 1997.
After a solid first half scoring 17 points, ASU didn't score another touchdown until 6:17 left in the game. During that second stanza, kicker Alex Garoutte missed three goals: one hit the upright, one was blocked and the last one sailed wide left. It was a performance that evoked unpleasant memories of the UCLA road game in 2011. It was a contest, where Garoutte also missed three attempts, and one that began a five-game slide and ultimately marked one of the most ever underachieving seasons in ASU's football history.
Furthermore Garoutte's missed point after proved to be significant in ASU's comeback attempt at Missouri forcing the Sun Devils to score a touchdown late rather than attempting a field goal that could have sent the game into overtime.
The embattled Garoutte seemed to have turned the corner in fall camp, despite stiff competition from two walk-on kickers, Dillon Jackson and Jon Mora. The later even attempted a field goal, which was missed in last week's game versus Utah. One can only wonder where Garoutte's confidence level is at right now and more importantly does today's performance open the door that much wider for Mora to be the starter following the bye week at Colorado?
Regardless of what the eventual answer will be, there is no denying the instability at this position.
The offensive line generally did a solid job today protecting quarterback Taylor Kelly, as well as opening running lanes for the Sun Devil ball carriers. However, it was a game that center Kody Koebensky would rather soon forget as two of his errant snaps, luckily recovered by Kelly, ultimately prevented the offense from padding its lead and putting even more pressure on the ASU defense.
In fairness to Koebensky, this performance was an aberration; however it does present an aspect that needs to be perfected during the next week especially if the ASU offense aims to play at the high octane level the staff desires it to perform at.
Converting 4 of 7 red zone opportunities isn't a horrible statistic by any means, and the Sun Devils lining up in the victory formation on their last possession deep in Cal's territory is partially responsible for that number. Yet, overall the offense never seem to be in the rhythm it was during its three home wins which raises the concern that with four road games remaining this season can this offense match its performance level it displays at Sun Devil Stadium?
We still believe that the glass is more than half full than empty when it comes to evaluating the team as a whole at this juncture of the season. The ASU defense will go into the bye week remaining one of the Pac-12's best. Kelly's statistical numbers will still be impressive among his conference peers, especially for a first-year starter thrown into a new offensive system. Running back Cameron Marshall may have turned the corner after today's contest, shaking off a largely disappointing start to the season, and the wide receivers group is continuing to erase any doubts they raised earlier in the year.
Nonetheless, the areas that need a shoring up can and will come back to haunt Arizona State this season, especially with more challenging contests looming large in the upcoming weeks.
Yes, things are much different than last season and ASU will have to continue and work hard to keep it that way. This bye week will allow much needed regrouping to put the Sun Devils on a path that could culminate into a special campaign.