Upcoming Utah game could allow ASU to improve its ugly road record

Over the past two seasons, ASU has been terrible on the road

When ASU takes the field against the Utah Utes on Saturday afternoon, it will try to do something it has not done in over a year — win a road game. 

Since the beginning of last season, the Sun Devils are 1-7 on the road. The last time ASU won outside of the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium was last September against University of Texas San Antonio by score of 32-28. UTSA was actually ahead at halftime of that game.

To make matters worse, the Sun Devils have not won a Pac-12 road game since beating UCLA over two years ago on Oct. 3, 2015. Since then, ASU has gone 0-9 in conference road games and 1-11 in all games away from its home field, including a 43-42 loss to West Virginia in the 2016 Cactus Bowl, played at Chase Field.

Obviously it is more difficult to play on the road, but the team still has to look somewhat cohesive, and that has not always been the case. 

The main problem has been the defense, as the Sun Devils surrendered an over 44 points per contest in road games since the beginning of last season. 

Simple things have derailed the team on the road. 

“We’ve got to get three and outs – you’ve got to get off the field – you’ve got to tackle. The fundamentals of the game,” ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. 

The best example came in the Sun Devils’ last road game, when Stanford running back Bryce Love busted out a 61-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinal an early lead and set the tone for the entire game.

“I remember the third play, we miss a tackle right in the hole when Love made the long run. You’ve got to make those plays,” Bennett said. 

Two missed tackles let Love score, one near the line of scrimmage and the other down the field. 

But now it appears the defense has turned a corner in the form of an unexpected 13-7 win over then-No. 5 Washington on Saturday. And now they are making those tackles more often, which could be seen in the Washington game, where ASU did not give up any long-yardage explosive plays. 

It is unreasonable to expect the exact same performance against a quality Utah team, but if the Sun Devils can play solid defense away from Tempe, then that could be the key to ASU ailing its road woes.

“When you’re on the road, you’ve got to bring your own energy — you’ve got to make your own energy, and believe it or not, I truly believe the defense brings that,” Bennett said.

This season, the offense has been decent on the road, but has not put together a complete game. If the Sun Devils reduce negative plays, the offense could start and finish the game effectively.

“We eliminated some of the sacks — we had less negatives, less tackles for loss,” ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. “We need to create more explosives — we’ve got to get better in the vertical passing game.”

Even after a gigantic win, the Sun Devils should realize that not every performance is duplicable. They were in a similar situation in September after beating then-No. 24 Oregon 37-35. ASU followed up that great game with an uneven showing on Stanford’s home turf. 

“We’ve got to get back-to-back wins,” senior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood said. “It’s just like Oregon, when we beat Oregon. It was a great, great atmosphere, but we went in that next week and lost.”

Reach the reporter at mpharri7@asu.edu or follow @Harris_Mark7 on Twitter.

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