Offense can’t run the ball? Defense can’t stop anybody? Field-goal unit missing some kicks?
In a 31-28 win over No. 6 Oregon, coach Herm Edwards showed yet again that he knows how to keep his Sun Devils in games, regardless of the opponent or where it’s ranked.
Edwards is 5-4 in games against top-25 opponents.
So how do they do it?
“Trust,” freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels said.
Arizona State has underperformed on its four-game losing streak, and the players recognized it.
“We should be playing like that all the time,” Daniels said.
If ASU had been able to sustain the success it started the season with, jumping out to 5-1, it would be in contention for a Pac-12 South title.
Instead, the Sun Devils stumbled, casting doubt on everything they had accomplished to that point.
“We had something to prove,” Daniels said. “We came too play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Daniels finished 22 for 32 for 408 yards and three touchdowns.
For Edwards, wins over ranked opponents are becoming his signature.
“We’re trying to build a program,” Edwards said. “A game like this, the No. 6 team in the country, does it help you? It helps you.”
Since taking over in Tempe, Edwards has beaten Michigan State twice. He beat a ranked Utah team last year. A ranked Cal team this year. But the Oregon win takes it to a new level.
This game was on ABC. The Ducks were vying for a playoff spot. ASU wasn’t even certain to become bowl eligible.
But Edwards is a master motivator.
He challenged his guys.
“I told them, ‘you’ve got to get tired of losing’,” he said. “It’s got to hurt in your belly.”
He reminded them of last season. How the Sun Devils had a chance to play for a Pac-12 championship, but the Ducks ruined it. Edwards had his guys eager to return the favor.
“We’re crushing dreams!” Frank Darby shouted.
He had burst into the postgame news conference, fresh off of four catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
It took a massive culture change to get ASU to this point.
Under Todd Graham, the Sun Devils developed a habit of getting blown out. Nothing was worse than the 2016 Territorial Cup, where ASU lost 56-35 in a game that didn’t even feel that close. But it was the fourth consecutive loss by 19 points or more, a skid that put Graham on a hot seat that eventually burned him.
Edwards’ worst loss, by contrast, is 18 points. That came a month ago at Utah, a potential playoff team, and ASU was up 14-3 until a fumble on a punt return set up a Utes touchdown with about 5 minutes left to play.
The rest of the losses this year have been close.
The Sun Devils were a dropped pass or two away from a win against USC.
They were a goal-line fumble away from a win over Oregon State.
And they were a couple of dropped balls or overthrown passes away from beating Colorado.
Even in games where they’ve gone down big early, the Sun Devils have fought back to make it close.
UCLA was up 42-10 going into the fourth quarter. Rather than fade and quit, ASU stormed back with 22 points in the final period. It wasn’t enough. But the burst showed heart.
USC scored 28 points in the first quarter. But ASU held the Trojans to just three points the rest of the game and lost by just five.
Colorado opened up 14-0. But ASU had it to 24-21 by halftime.
Edwards has been using that as a button to push with his guys, too.
Beating Oregon was about “staying the course,” Eno Benjamin said.
“The way we practiced,” he said, “you wouldn’t know they were the No. 6 team in the country.”
It was a matter of strategy.
The run game hasn’t clicked all season, but Edwards was determined to stay with it.
“Oregon is a really good football team,” he said. “They’re scary on both sides of the ball. … The only way we could survive it was to make it ugly early.”
He stayed with Benjamin, who ran the ball 31 times for 121 yards.
It was a big win.
It changes the landscape of the season for both Oregon (9-2) and ASU (6-5).
“A national game,” Edwards said. “A team that’s trying to get into playoff contention … Who’s gonna play better? How are you gonna play?”
It’s all about motivation and preparation.
Edwards knows both.
Reach Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @WritingMoore.
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