Herm Edwards emphasizes focus ahead of the first road test of the year
For the past two weeks, No. 19 Arizona State has played football within the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium at home, with an excited crowd of Sun Devil fans donning gold under the warm desert night sky. First was Southern Utah, then came UNLV this past Saturday. The Sun Devils won both of those games handily but learned things about themselves and overcame small challenges in each of those contests.
Next, the challenge is much more formidable in both the atmosphere and opponent, with the No. 23 BYU Cougars playing host. The prospect of the matchup is one that ASU head coach Herm Edwards is not taking lightly.
“Obviously, they’re a very good football team,” Edwards began. “They’re very well coached, have athletes on all different levels. Going up (to Provo, Utah) is a tough task. It’s loud, and it’s our first road game. This is kind of what you want to experience as a football team, kind of figure out what you are.”
As a coach, Edwards is attempting to develop an understanding of his team, learning its quirks and tendencies each week. Edwards's key point of interest on Monday with reporters was the difference in development amongst the passing game and run offense.
Arizona State rushed the ball for 290 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday night, overpowering the UNLV defense with the prowess of the offensive line, the elite blocking of full backs and tight ends, and pure skill and speed of the running backs. Entering the season, the Sun Devils were advertised as one of the best running units in college football, and they’ve met those expectations. Since Edwards joined the program in 2018, ASU is 10-1 in games it has rushed for over 200 yards. To beat BYU on Saturday, it must continue to dominate on the ground.
“When you go on the road, it’s a known fact that the kicking game, defense, and running the football travel,” Edwards said. “That’s what travels because they can play in any conditions. Sometimes conditions will allow you to throw the ball a lot, but you have to be able to run the football, and we run the ball consistently we tend to win.”
“Football is a game where you want to make people one-handed, you want to make the offense predictable… When you give the ball to a guy, and he runs for five, you’re always ahead of the chains. When you make them throw it if they miss, it’s now 2nd and 10… When you look at the teams that win, watch how they run the ball. The good teams find a way to run the ball.”
Edwards’ goal of running the ball against BYU, or any opponent, for that matter, becomes easier this week with the expected return of sophomore running back DeaMonte Trayanum, who ran for 52 yards on six carries and scored two touchdowns against Southern Utah. Trayanum was dinged up in the process, and sat out of practice last week, as well as did not participate in the contest against UNLV on Saturday.
Trayanum returns to a unit that Edwards expects to have full participation from, despite being battered and bruised. Redshirt freshman Daniyel Ngata dislocated his left thumb on Saturday but returned to action, logging 65 yards and a touchdown on six touches.
Where questions remain for the Sun Devils on offense is the passing game. After throwing an interception on the first drive on Saturday night, junior quarterback Jayden Daniels seemed to opt to use his legs for gains on plays where he could have thrown the ball. Daniels was completed 10 of his 12 passes for 132 yards against Southern Utah and 20 of 29 for 175 yards and two touchdowns against UNLV, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement through the air.
“Well, we haven't made a lot of explosive plays,” Edwards admitted. “I think when you think about passing, you want to be able to do that. A lot of times, we were a little bit off schedule.”
“We’ve been fortunate since I’ve been here for the last three years; we have had receivers drafted. Two first-round picks (in N’Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk) as well as Frank (Darby) going to the Atlanta Falcons, so there’s always been a guy. We have to figure out who that guy is, and it’s too early to know right now. As the season goes on, we’ll figure out who those guys are.”
Right now, it’s about building in-game relationships, connections, and trust for Daniels and his receivers. After all, most of the group has only played in six games together across 2020’s shortened season and two games in 2021.
“I talked with Jayden this morning in my office today,” Edwards detailed. “We had a nice conversation about what we’re trying to become, and I think a lot of that is being familiar with the people he’s playing with… He understands that, and the receivers understand that.”
“I think it’s just patience. When you’re not familiar with what your guys are going to do, you have this clock in your head when you play quarterback. The patterns are being run, and there’s a certain look to see if you go here or there, and when that clock expires, you’re off schedule… When we are off schedule, it’s about how the receivers and Jayden adjust.”
Daniels did manage to finally build scoring connections with redshirt freshmen receivers LV Bunkley-Shelton and Johnny Wilson on Saturday, as each scored their first touchdowns in maroon and gold after on and off debuts for each across the four games played in 2020.
On defense, Edwards and the Sun Devils struggled in the first half of Saturday’s contest to contain UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Doug Brumfield, as he used his arm and his legs to allot 110 of UNLV’s 155 yards. Waiting in the wings to face ASU is BYU sophomore Jaren Hall, who is much like Brumfield but quicker and more versatile. In BYU’s statement win against Utah on Saturday, Hall threw for 149 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 92 yards on the ground.
“(Hall) is much faster; he’s really fast,” Edwards outlined. “He’s dynamic. You can always tell who’s a fast player because they run like their feet are on fire. He makes a lot of big plays, and that’s the concern… He’s really what we have to focus on, keeping him in the pocket and not letting him beat us on the perimeter because he can run, but he can also throw it.”
Arizona State’s biggest test thus far lies ahead of it this week. For Edwards, it’s all about setting the tone and starting off strong to determine the Sun Devils' success. Long gone are the buildup non-conference opponents and the friendly environments, and in order to weather the storm of playing on the road, it’s essential Arizona State sets the tone.
“We can’t get off to a bad start,” Edwards stated. “When you go on the road, and you get off to a bad start, you’re fighting two elements, the 11 guys on the field and the crowd. When you go on the road, you think differently. If you go out there and get first downs or convert on third down, you quiet the crowd.”
“I made my voice resonate in the building starting Sunday (to prepare the team for this week). I’ll mess with them all week. I’ve already been on the coaches a little bit. I’ve got some things to do.”
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