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ASU football looking for more from its playmakers

The Sun Devil offense has struggled in 2015, and are looking for more from their weapons

Redshirt junior wide receiver Tim White (12) runs a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Utah on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Tim White (12) runs a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Utah on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.

ASU football's offense has struggled throughout the 2015 season, but perhaps no game exposed the Sun Devils and their weak points more so than the team's 34-18 loss in the rain to No. 4 Utah.

For the first time in five seasons (before Todd Graham was head coach), the Sun Devils were unable to score an offensive touchdown. Only one time did the offense start in their own territory and manage to put points on the board. 

As offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said Wednesday, it's time for many of ASU's highly-regarded offensive targets to step up.

"I think we're leaving too many plays out there on the field where we have opportunities to make plays," Norvell said. "We're challenging guys. Playmakers have got to make plays. You don't do that just talking about it — you've got to go out there and practice at a high level and go out there and execute at a high level."

Redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici has appeared to put together a solid season on paper in throwing for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions this season, but has yet to pass the eye test.

The offensive line's struggles have limited his time to throw in the pocket, and the team's inconsistency in play-calling along with Bercovici's hesitation in the read option have severely hampered the team's ability to move the ball.

Bercovici said the key to jumpstarting the offense is simplicity.

"We're getting back to the basics, back to the fundamentals," he said. "It's nice having a bye week to just get that extra time to prepare."

Norvell attributed some of the team's struggles in Utah to communication. He said playing in a hostile environment led to the team not being all on the same page.

"We missed some opportunities," Norvell said. "Playing a good defense, you can't go out there and leave points on the board. A couple of key plays in the game — We had two drops in the end zone. We had a 30-35-yard explosive play called back right before half because of an illegal formation and we had a couple of procedure penalties."

Injuries have been an issue with players such as sophomore running back Kalen Ballage, sophomore running back Demario Richard, redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien, redshirt junior wide receiver Tim White, redshirt junior wide receiver Fred Gammage, and others.

While all of those players are expected to be ready to go against Oregon following ASU's bye week, another player remains outside of the fold and on "Muscle Beach" — redshirt freshman wide receiver Jalen Harvey.

"We're hoping to have him back for this next game," Norvell said. "He had a really nice camp and got injured at Camp Tontozona and has been out. He's a guy that's a young receiver and I think has got a really bright future here."

Among the key struggles for the Sun Devils this season has been the lack of production from senior wide receiver D.J. Foster, who said Tuesday he was feeling alright despite taking multiple knocks throughout the course of the season.

Front Seven Domination

ASU's defense is quickly making a name for itself as one of the top front lines in the nation. Entering last Saturday's game against Utah, the Sun Devils had held three consecutive teams to less than 100 yards rushing. The Utes' running back Devontae Booker crossed this plateau only after a pair of long fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said the group's relentlessness has shown in its aggressive play.

"Since (Texas) A&M, we've dominated the line of scrimmage," Patterson said. "Honestly, I'm disappointed that we didn't hold Texas A&M to less than 100 (rushing yards). It doesn't surprise me. We played a lot of base defense in the spring, and I think it's showing off and paying great dividends for us this year. Our kids have such great confidence when stopping the run."

Much of the success can even be attributed to the reserves, as backup linebackers DJ Calhoun and Ismael Murphy-Richardson have been particularly effective. Calhoun currently sits as the team's leader with 4.5 sacks.

"Any time you put those two together and don't know where they're headed — good luck," Patterson said. "Those guys are sitting on 'G' and waiting on 'O' most of the time, and they were doing a great job and just get better ... It's almost like sharks in the water. They smell that blood and man, they're teeing off."

One element of the team's scheme that hasn't shown up as much yet has been forcing turnovers. Saturday marked the third time through the team's first seven games that the defense did not force a turnover, and the team has forced nine total. 

"You have to put an emphasis on it," Patterson said. "We sometimes say we're putting an emphasis on it, but I mean really holding players accountable to attacking the ball. Holding kids accountable to if you drop an interception in practice, there's got to be a consequence."

Practice notes:

- Stretch song: "Ferrari Boyz" by Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame

- Redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien and redshirt junior linebacker Laiu Moeakiola were among the notable starters wearing green non-contact jerseys. Moeakiola was limited, while Lucien worked at "Muscle Beach."

- Former ASU and current Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Marcus Hardison was in attendance Wednesday, as his team is currently on its bye week.

Related Links:

Return of Richard will help out the struggling ASU offense

ASU football opens bye week with renewed focus on fundamentals

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