Offensive line seeking return to dominance

Arizona State had one of the best rushing attacks in the nation in 2012, ranking 25th among all FBS schools with just over 205 yards per game on the ground. Through three games this season, it's a different story.

The Sun Devils are currently 107th in the nation with 108 rushing yards per game. While the argument could be made that Arizona State has played top-notch opponents in two of its first three games in Wisconsin and Stanford, redshirt senior tackle Evan Finkenberg knows that this team can do better, and it starts with the offensive line.

"I think we just have to make sure we get push up front," Finkenberg said. "When we are finishing plays on the front line, we can make holes for our running backs who are great guys, they can find those little seams. It's just our job up front to make sure we are getting all of the right people making sure we are pushing off of the ball, expanding space.

"We have got to expand the space as much as possible and if we do that it will be a good day."

After two quarters had past in their first road game of the season against No. 5 Stanford, Arizona State was down 29 points and was getting dominated in all facets of the game.

Finkenberg said the mood in the locker room wasn't one in which guys were giving up, there was still determination.

"Some guys were down but it was really just, ‘let's start fighting, we have got another whole half of football, you never know what happens,'" Finkenberg explained. "We know we are a really explosive team so if we could put together a couple of drives, things could happen.

"So we got close towards the end there, we didn't finish it out but this week it is kind of more motivating watching that film and making sure you don't make the same mistakes again."

Being a senior, and one of the appointed leaders by coach Graham, Finkenberg is looked to in times of adversity to pick the team up and get them back on track. One of the things he noticed after that first half of play from his team was a lack of conviction.

"I think a big thing is you have got to play with confidence out there," Finkenberg said. "When you play with confidence you're running off the ball and it's a lot more fun out there. You're having fun you're out with your boys out there, trying to smash some heads and I think that's something that we have been really emphasizing the run game a lot more this week. So I think that's something this week that we will try to do."

The competition doesn't get any easier for the Sun Devils as they take on USC this Saturday. The Trojans (3-1) boast the fourth best statistical defense in the country and lead the Pac-12 in sacks (16) and rush defense with 59.2 yards allowed per game under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Finkenberg and the rest of the offensive line have been hard at work studying and preparing so by the time Saturday rolls around, they'll be performing the way they need to be.

"We've been going over a lot of film work," Finkenberg said. "We do that extra film work as a group making sure we have all of the different calls down for us, make sure we ID certain guys, and make sure we are all on the same page.

"We were watching a bit of Cal film last year for our game. They do a lot of different multiple fronts, move their line a lot, they've got some physical guys and they're really athletic up front. So we just really have to make sure we communicate and make sure we are on the right people."

Finkenberg went on to mention that each week, the offense will add a couple of new plays and blocking schemes to get the upper hand on their next opponent. But he said a major goal as a unit upfront is to protect the quarterback and keep him comfortable in the pocket, which is something that they weren't able to do very well in their 42-28 loss to the Cardinal.

Keeping quarterback Taylor Kelly upright against a dynamic front like USC will be tough. Bringing it full circle, because as Finkenberg explains, running the ball effectively in turn creates opportunities through the air.

"I think we just have to establish the run," Finkenberg said. "When we establish the run early it really just makes the game a lot easier for our passing game. We have some great receivers, great weapons out there and as long as we get push up front that really kind of opens up our playbook and makes things easier.

"When you get down that much it's really hard because we have to pass a lot, make up a lot of points. That kind of puts you in bad situations so the defense can tee off on you. So it's our job up front to make sure we get a push so that doesn't happen."

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