If you were to describe ASU football's season-opening loss to Texas A&M in one word, what would it be?
"Letdown" and "exposed" come to mind.
It wasn't all bad. The season's obviously not over after the first game, but there are areas of concern.
Here are five reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic about the 2015 season after one week.
1. ASU hasn’t been eliminated from anything
Remember when Ohio State was written off last year after the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2? As we all know, Ohio State won the national championship. While a similar feat is extremely unlikely for ASU, the team hasn’t been eliminated from the national title (a completely unrealistic goal) and Pac-12 play hasn't even started.
2. It’s early
For many teams, the first week of the season is their preseason cupcake game. Usually that means an easy win with a vanilla playbook and resting starters in the second half. Kudos to ASU for scheduling a big-name school away from home. About one-third of the Power 5 played FCS schools in Week 1. But back to the point: It's early. With a coaching staff as bright as the one the Sun Devils have, they will make adjustments.
ASU’s defense played admirably by keeping the team in the game for as long as it did. Remember when Texas A&M started at the 4-yard line? The defense stepped up and forced a field goal. Defenses that can stand tall under pressure like that merit some hope and a good defense means a team will never be out of a game.
4. Graham has exceeded expectations
In each of his first three years, ASU coach Todd Graham exceeded the team's expectations, winning 10 games in the last two. Entering 2015, ASU's expectations were about as high as they've ever been. After one week, it might be time to lower them, but that's when he shines – when counted out.
5. Pac-12 may not be as strong as previously thought
The Pac-12 did not have a good week. Stanford (at Northwestern), ASU (at Texas A&M), Colorado (at Hawaii), Washington State (vs. Portland State) and Washington (at Boise State) all lost. Oregon State (vs. Weber State) and Arizona (vs. UTSA) also struggled in wins against schools they should have blown out.
Five reasons to be pessimistic
1. Offensive line
The offensive line is my biggest concern following the first week of play. ASU had two new tackles as starters, and it showed. Quarterback Mike Bercovici was sacked nine times, fumbled four times, and was under duress countless other times. As a result, Bercovici had to get rid of the ball quick, often dumping the ball to a checkdown receiver.
2. Wide receivers
Where were the receivers the whole game? Ellis Jefferson’s first catch came in the fourth quarter while Gary Chambers’ wasn’t until the last drive. DJ Foster’s long was 11 yards on six catches. We may have overlooked the losses of receivers Jaelen Strong (NFL) and Cameron Smith (injury).
3. The schedule doesn’t get any easier
While ASU should cruise through the next two weeks, the unranked Sun Devils still have to play at No. 13 UCLA and No. 24 Utah and have home games looming against No. 8 USC, No. 7 Oregon and No. 22 Arizona.
4. Running backs not as deep as previously thought
Remember when running back was ASU's deepest position? Not the case anymore. With Foster moving to receiver and Kalen Ballage being out with mono, ASU is down to a two-man backfield in Demario Richard and De'Chavon “Gump” Hayes. While Richard is a solid No. 1, Hayes had 13 touches for 19 yards Saturday in addition to multiple drops. Did we also forget that a graduate assistant is now their position coach?
5. Special teams
ASU did not lose the game on Saturday because of special teams, but they didn't help either. Most will remember Christian Kirk's return for a touchdown, but more concerning were the short, low hang-time punts. After one week, ASU is 93rd in net punting. Also, ASU committed two penalties (one roughing) on opposing punts.