ASU football searches for answers in lead up to matchup with Michigan State

Despite a 2-0 start, Sun Devil football coaching staff is unsatisfied with offensive output

On the surface, ASU’s 2-0 record should instill confidence heading into its matchup with the 18th ranked Michigan State Spartans. The Sun Devils won their first two contests by an average of almost 18 points while holding both of their opponents to only seven points. 

And yet, the mood permeating from the ASU locker room has yet to match the on-field performance. Instead, there is a hunger and intensity within the tight-knit ASU team. As they prepare for their first road trip of the year, the focused and disciplined Sun Devil squad has made it a priority to stay grounded in their first true test of the 2019 season.

“I gave them a speech last practice,” senior cornerback Kobe Williams said in the lead up to ASU’s matchup with the Spartans. “I just told them that we really haven’t done nothing, we have to keep improving every single day. Our season is about to escalate to something really different. I told our freshman, it’s finna be a whole different ball game.”

Despite strong showings in both early season games, the ASU coaching staff remains unsatisfied with the Sun Devils' offensive output thus far. The unit has shown flashes of brilliance, but has too often followed them with moments of stagnation and ineffectiveness.

The most glaring area for improvement has been the offensive line, a group forced to utilize two freshmen after suffering a litany of early season injuries. 

Their struggles have placed a greater strain on the rest of the offense, yet offensive coordinator Rob Likens is quick to correct the idea that the offensive line was the only issue plaguing the unit in Friday’s victory against Sacramento State. 

“I'm just disappointed,” Likens said of the offense’s performance last week. “There were so many different things that happened, it was crazy. We physically got beat in places, not going to hide from that. It was just crazy."   

Disappointment is rarely the main emotion following the film study of a double-digit victory, yet Likens' unhappiness illuminates just how high his expectations are for the group. 

The main source of Likens' frustration appears to be the Sun Devils' ineptitude in the red zone. In its five trips inside the 20-yard line against Sacramento State, ASU failed to find the end zone even once, instead settling for four field goals and a goal line fumble.

“The thing that bothered me the most, that gives you sleepless nights, is our inability to punch it in inside the 10-yard line,” Likens said. “Like that, I don't care if you have 5-year-olds out there on offense ... we've got to find a way to punch the dang football in inside the 10-yard line, if we do that just two times, it's a whole different attitude."

While it would be easy to blame all of the their problems on the offensive line, the team has been quick to point out the strides the unit has made from week one to two. 

On top of the two freshmen who are receiving unexpected, consistent playing time, the group is still adjusting to the position change for senior Cohl Cabral, who moved from center to left tackle this off-season.   

“It’s just a matter of everyone getting comfortable out there,” Cabral said. “When you've got guys who don’t have as much experience as the guys around them, there’s a little bit of a different speed played, they’re still trying to walk through it."

Cabral said once players are on the same page, "it just turns into poetry in motion.”

Even with the plethora of concerns surrounding the team, there is still a sense of excitement and optimism surrounding the lead up to ASU’s trip up north.

“I hope we're up for the challenge,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “We'll know right away. These are the kind of games you play for. It's going to be physical, nasty, mean. The bottom of those piles are going to be ugly. The toughest guys are going to win. The team that plays the hardest the longest is going to win."

A win on Saturday would go a long way in legitimizing the message Sun Devil coaches have preached all offseason and, similarly to last season, could propel ASU into the AP Top 25. With the trip to East Lansing right around the corner, the excitement for some is just simply too much to handle.  

"They know the challenge," Gonzales said. "If they don't know it, they've been hearing about it all week. If they're scared, then I hope they stay here in Tempe. I don't think we have any guys who are scared on our side of the ball. I wish it were Saturday already."


Reach the reporter at Jrosenfa@asu.edu or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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