Offense finds groove but ASU suffers season's first loss to visiting Colorado

Saturday's shootout in Tempe dropped ASU to 3-1 on the season

ASU’s quest for perfection ended Saturday night with a crushing 34-31 loss at the hands of the visiting Colorado Buffaloes. 

The Sun Devil offense was electric throughout, ripping through the Buffaloes' defense en route to a season-high point total. But it was ultimately not enough as ASU's defense was unable to force Colorado off the field when it mattered most. 

“100 percent on me,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said after the loss. “That is my fault. They were coached terrible this week. When you get out-coached, out-schemed, that ain’t the kids’ fault, that’s my fault. We’ll adjust it, we’ll give them a better chance to be successful next week, (but) they didn’t overcome me.”

Saturday’s loss was a jarring shift from the Sun Devils' first three games, as a defense that had allowed a total of 21 points coming into tonight allowed almost double that to a potent Buffalo offense. Even without superstar wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. for most of the game, the Colorado offense moved up and down the field with startling efficiency, racking up 475 total yards while averaging nearly seven yards a play. 

“Defensively, I did not think that we were going to allow them the first four or five possessions to go down and score on us,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “Not a lot of pressure on the quarterback (Steven Montez) and when you do not have pressure on the quarterback, (he) can pick you apart. He did a nice job moving the ball on us.”

The defensive line's lack of a pass rush doomed ASU from the opening drive and accentuated the shortcomings of the rest of the defense. The unit failed to collect even a single sack in the loss and allowed multiple long touchdowns including a 31-yard strike midway through the second quarter. 

“We have to do a better job of designing some pass rushes, because we’re not beating anybody,” Gonzales said. “We have to give them a chance schematically.”

Offensively, there was a lot to like from ASU’s performance Saturday. Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels continued to rewrite the record books with another strong performance. 

According to 3TV, he now owns two of the top four passing performances by a Sun Devil freshman quarterback with his 345 passing yards in the loss. The play of the offensive line was also much improved. The unit looked much more cohesive despite once again starting 17-year-old freshman LaDarius Henderson at left tackle. 

“I thought we had a great game plan, and we executed it at about 95 percent level,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “When we’re as young as we are, we don’t have room to make mistakes. Your margin for error is very, very small with young, inexperienced players and down the stretch it showed a little bit.”

Daniels did make the first meaningful mistake of his young career, throwing his first interception of the season midway through the fourth quarter, but it was a slight blip in an otherwise impressive performance. 

The freshman made a number of big-time throws, mostly to senior receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who finished with nine receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown. Daniels also connected with junior receiver Frank Darby on a 39-yard score to tie the game at 31 in the fourth quarter. 

“We had everything there, we had a game plan,” Daniels said. “It was just a matter of missed throws, missed assignments. In the second half they started bringing a lot more pressure, tried to get me off my spot. I feel like we did a pretty good job of it and (there were) just a couple plays that could have made the difference in the game.”

For ASU, who for the second straight year followed up an appearance in the AP Top 25 with a loss the very next week, the impetus now lies in preparing for next week’s matchup against the California Golden Bears. As the team grapples with the unfamiliar taste of losing, the Sun Devil coaching staff is anxious to see how the group responds.

“It is the first time these guys have lost all year, how we regroup is very important,” Edwards said. “We have to get some things straightened out too, especially on defense. We have to play a lot better if we are going to contend and try to win games.”


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

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