Arizona State seals exhausting season with 46–33 win over Oregon State
Herm Edwards is worn out, and Arizona State is, too.
“I need a rest,” the Sun Devil head coach admitted following the last chapter of Arizona State’s 2020 season. “I’m tired. I’m bone tired.”
Despite the NCAA’s football advisory panel waiving the minimum wins threshold before the Pac-12 even began this wacky season, Pac-12 conference commissioner, Larry Scott laid out requirements for bowl qualification in the conference before the West coast’s premier conference began its quest for seven games in seven weeks. Teams needed to achieve a .500 record or better. With Arizona State’s 46–33 win over Oregon State late Saturday night in rainy Corvallis, the conference wound up with seven teams which fit the qualifications for a bowl game and only two which would choose to participate in the festivities.
“It’s tough. But, when we make decisions, we make them thinking of the student-athletes that are involved in this, and we just felt like what this team has gone through and what our student-athletes have gone through, we’ll settle it off like this,” explained the 66-year-old Edwards, who tested positive for COVID-19 during the Sun Devils’ three-week shut down during the month of November. “We didn’t accomplish what we’d like to this year. The key going into this game for us was we didn’t want to have a losing season. We got to 2–2, and at this point, we’re going to give our athletes a rest.”
Edwards and the Sun Devils were afforded the opportunity to decline a bowl invitation because of their play during the 2020 season’s final two weeks. Following a historic beatdown of an in-state rival, ASU re-created much of its offensive success with its fourth dominant rushing performance in as many games. For the second time in three years under Edwards, the ASU rushing attack ran for more than 300 yards as the Sun Devil offensive line plowed the way for a 375-yard, 6-touchdown rushing performance on the ground in Corvallis.
“None of us got like an attitude problem or nothing like that,” said junior running back Rachaad White of the ASU running back room after the Sun Devils brought in two highly-touted freshmen in Chip Trayanum and Daniyel Ngata, as well as an impact JUCO transfer like himself to replace Eno Benjamin. White, who once again led the Sun Devils in rushing with 158 yards and two touchdowns, averaged more than 12 yards per carry and added two receptions for 28 yards as well. “We all just understand with running backs, it’s a rhythm thing. The hot hand is gonna eat, and we all understand that. That’s what makes our room so great. We all want to be great.”
“The JUCO guys, they come in with a hunger, a different type of hunger,” said sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels of White’s success early in his ASU career. “They just want to win and just want to succeed in every way possible.”
In each of Arizona State’s four games this season, White has showcased an elusiveness against opposing defenders like few players in college football. Prior to the season finale, the Mt. San Antonio College transfer was leading the Sun Devils in rushing and receiving yards.
In each of ASU’s first three games, White had a play which resulted in a 50-plus yard gain, and did so twice against the Beavers, galloping in the open field for gains of 51 and 55 — the latter of which came on his second touchdown run of the night and sixth of the short season.
“I was just looking at [White’s yards per carry mark] and I was amazed,” marveled offensive coordinator Zak Hill with a chuckle. “12.9 or something like that per carry? That is crazy, and that is fun to see. He is explosive. I’m glad we got him for a couple of years.”
A firm grip on the lead for much of the night allowed Arizona State to run the ball on nearly three out of every four plays, rushing it 42 times and passing just 15. The Sun Devils gained 8.9 yards per carry, saw three different ball carriers gain more than 50 yards on the ground and had four different Sun Devils (White, Daniels, Chip Trayanum, and Ricky Pearsall) account for the six rushing touchdowns.
While it’s unknown exactly how close to Saturday evening’s 8:30 MT kickoff the Sun Devils were before knowing they’d be without three key contributors in the passing game; it took Arizona State a drive to get in control. Absent Curtis Hodges, Johnny Wilson and Andre Johnson due to COVID protocols, Hill and the ASU offense dialed up three consecutive passes on the Devils’ opening drive. After that strategy led to a three-and-out, the second Sun Devil drive of the night saw ASU go 77 yards on seven plays, all coming via the ground attack.
“A lotta personnel adjustments and the guys’ stepped up,” said Hill, whose piloted the Sun Devil offense to 16 touchdowns in the last two games. “The last two games we were in those types of games where we needed to run the football… and 375 on the ground is impressive.”
Arizona State brought in Hill in large part to maximize the skillset of sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels. With an 8-for-15 performance through the air, one touchdown pass — a 63-yard deep ball to Geordon Porter, which gave the Sun Devils their first two-score lead of the night — and no interceptions, Daniels isn’t producing overwhelming numbers in the passing game.
Set up by the play-action pass, Daniels’ connection with Porter put the Sun Devils in a position, they wouldn’t relinquish at any point in the last 41 minutes of play. Leading by more than two scores for the remainder of the night, an efficient ASU offense controlled the clock and each possession, scoring on its first two possessions of the second half.
“We’re not getting a lot out of our passing game the last two weeks, but when you rush for that many yards, you’re not going to throw a lot of passes,” said Edwards of an ASU offense that will conclude the 2020 season averaging 40.3 points per game.
Without video game type numbers in the passing game, Daniels has added production with his legs. In four games, the sophomore quarterback tallied four rushing touchdowns, including a 53-yard run early in the third quarter, which featured a stiff arm of a Beaver opponent.
“He’s always had the skillset for running, but most people don’t think he can run. Once you see him get in the open [field] he’s very elusive,” said Edwards of Daniels, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry in 2020. “He has good eyes and knows when to get down and can run, but I think next year hopefully as the offense develops and defense develops, Jayden, he’s a guy that has a talented arm.
“He has arm talent. The more he familiarizes himself with his wide receivers, we can do some more in the passing game, and we’re going to need to do some more in the passing game. That’s something we’re looking forward to when we start back up.”
As Edwards spoke to reporters last week following ASU’s 70–7 win over Arizona; it didn’t take a keen ear to pick up on the emotion in his voice. Choked up in the postgame press conference for two weeks in a row, the third-year Sun Devil head coach told reporters that he let his players know how proud he was of them for persevering through challenging and unusual circumstances.
“I’m happy and I’m proud of the players for all they had to go through this season,” said an emotional Edwards, whose record at ASU stands at 17–13 through his first three seasons in Tempe. “This has been the hardest [season] for me in my whole life. As an athlete, playing football, as a coach. Every level, this has been very, very tough for everyone involved. I say that for all college coaches and all college student-athletes who had to go through what they had to go through.
“It’s a credit to these young people and their resolve and ability to do something that’s very difficult.”
Arizona State’s defense did what was necessary to keep the game out of reach against the Beavers but struggled getting off the field on third down, allowing OSU to convert 11 of its 19 attempts. Jermayne Lole recovered a fumble and DeAndre Pierce secured an interception, adding to Arizona State’s incredible turnover margin after a seven-turnover performance the week prior. For the first time in 10 games, ASU failed to record a sack in a game in which the teams combined for five total tackles for loss.
As Arizona State closes up shop on the 2020 season, Sun Devils in the postgame press conference made clear their understanding of the tone set for next season by Saturday night’s performance. Well aware of the coaching staff’s decision to make the trip to Corvallis the program’s last of the year, a focused and determined Sun Devil squad continued building a foundation for success in 2021 with many of the same faces and characters expected to contribute next fall.
“We should have been 4–0,” claimed Daniels, after close losses to USC and UCLA. “We should have been playing yesterday [in the Pac-12 championship game]. Given the circumstances, we put ourselves in this situation, and that’s just motivation to build on for next year.
“You have those thoughts of what could’ve been, but you’ve just gotta move on with those thoughts and just [be] on to a new season. We’re building from these last two games. Offense played very well. The whole team played very well. So we’re just going on and moving forward, and just moving onto next year.”
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