With HBO on location for the week, ASU head coach Herm Edwards is the biggest star in town. The effervescent Edwards is a natural in front of the camera, and his infectious attitude has spread throughout the team as excitement builds for this week’s matchup with the 3-2 Washington State Cougars.
Coaches on both sides of the ball have expressed the ideal timing of this year’s first bye week, acknowledging the physical toll this season has taken on the team so far. After an emotional win at Cal that reaffirmed the Sun Devils' status as a top 25 team, the coaching staff has used the extra week of preparation to both relax and assess the team at large.
“Bye weeks are great. Players love it, coaches love it; You get to look at yourself, you evaluate your team, you evaluate all the things you’d like to do better,” Edwards said Monday. “But at the end, emotionally, there’s a little bit of a letdown because you’re used to playing every week... Now we got to start preparing for a really good opponent.”
A key aspect of that self-evaluation has been an extensive film session on ASU’s first half of the season, according to offensive coordinator Rob Likens.
His deep dive into a tumultuous first five games has given Likens a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his young unit, he said. It has also revealed the specific areas that the group must improve on to complete their push toward a Pac-12 South crown.
“One of the things we wanted to do is, we looked at every play, obviously, that we ran. We looked at what we did good, where the ball was going,” Likens said. “Where does Jayden (Daniels) like to throw the ball? What does he like? What does he stay away from?
"And we saw some things, watching the film, which allowed us to cut down on some things, take things out that he’s not 100 percent comfortable with. So that helped us out tremendously."
As Likens looks to improve his playbook, freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has worked to get himself healthy. After suffering a minor ankle injury in the Sun Devils' win over the Golden Bears, the bye week provided a rare opportunity for the freshman to heal in preparation for an intense second half of the season.
“The bye week has been beneficial, really just getting healthy, (healing) all the nicks and bruises that the team had, that I had, throughout the past five weeks,” Daniels said.
The primary emphasis during the time leading up to ASU’s matchup with Washington State has been stopping the electric Cougar offense. Through five games, the unit is near the top of almost every statistical category, putting up staggering numbers throughout the season, including a wild 67-63 shootout with the UCLA Bruins.
Washington State redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Gordon has been dominant through the first half, leading the conference in throwing yards and passing touchdowns while registering the conference’s second highest quarterback rating.
“The statistics are unbelievable,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “Five hundred forty six yards a game of total offense, fourth in the country. Eighth in offense in scoring offense at 44 points a game. They’re leading the country in passing offense at 450 yards a game. They have eight guys with double digit catches in five games. They have five guys with 20 or more catches in five games. That’s amazing.”
For a Sun Devil defense that prides itself on its secondary, a matchup with the high flying Cougars presents itself as likely their biggest test of the season thus far. The secondary knows the importance of their performance on Saturday, and for a unit never lacking in confidence, they appear up to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a hell of a game,” sophomore safety Aashari Crosswell said. “I feel like we’re both going to give the crowd what they want to see.”