ASU notes: Special-teams miscues costly
TEMPE, Ariz. — At his weekly press conference Monday, Arizona State coach Todd Graham addressed a number of issues identified in his team’s 24-20 loss to Missouri on Saturday but said, upon review, special teams stuck out more than anything else.
“Probably, after looking at the film, the biggest thing that was concerning to me was just how poorly we played and how many mistakes we made on special teams,” Graham said. “We haven’t done anything like that.”
ASU’s special-teams miscues came early and often Saturday. Perhaps most glaring was senior Jamal Miles’ fumble on a first-quarter punt return, setting Missouri up for an 18-yard touchdown drive. Graham said Miles took a big hit, which forced a contact fumble, but didn’t excuse the lack of ball security.
Then there was senior punter Josh Hubner’s muffed snap in the third quarter, which led to an 11-yard punt and good field position for the Tigers, who then drove 33 yards for a touchdown to go up 24-7.
“It was a little bit of a high snap, not too high, but (Hubner) just dropped the ball,” Graham said. “That was pretty much a turnover as well.”
The other prominent misstep proved just as costly. When ASU scored with just over 11 minutes remaining to make it a 24-20 game, holder Ryan Woods bobbled the snap, costing ASU an extra point. Had ASU gotten that point, Graham said he would have called for a game-tying field goal on one of ASU’s last two drives — both of which nearly resulted in touchdowns — to force overtime. That situation, Graham said, is where it hurts to have sophomore quarterback Mike Bercovici, the team’s best holder, redshirting this season.
Graham chalked up some of the special-teams issues to the tough road atmosphere and nerves but again stressed that the team’s ball security must improve.
“We’ve got to correct the mistakes,” Graham said. “Our guys know that (games) start counting this week. Our goal and our focus is conference play.”
For a guy coming of a 1,000-yard season and expected to get 25-30 touches per game, senior running back Cameron Marshall was nearly invisible against Missouri. Marshall, who missed much of fall camp with a hamstring injury, got only four carries and finished with 15 yards.
Graham said Marshall is healthy and still ASU’s offensive leader but has been limited by situational offensive rhythm. Through three games, he has 25 carries for 81 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came again NAU in Week 1.
“I’d sure like to get him a lot more touches,” Graham said. “He’s a guy we want to get the ball to. We’ve got other guys, too, that we want to get the ball to,” specifically mentioning senior wide receiver Jamal Miles, freshman running back D.J. Foster, junior running back Marion Grice and junior tight end Chris Coyle.
ASU undoubtedly has a bevy of offensive weapons, and getting them all involved sometimes leave a player such as Marshall with fewer touches.
“We want to get the ball to whoever we’ve got to get it to to win games,” Graham said. “But we no doubt want to get (Marshall) more involved in what we’re doing and get him going.”
TRIAL BY FIRE
ASU wasted no time getting former (yes, former) running back Deantre Lewis playing time on defense, using him on the first series against Missouri. On his first play, Lewis’ pressure on Tigers quarterback Corbin Berkstresser helped freshman nose tackle Jaxon Hood record a sack.
Lewis, who finished with one tackle, had only three practices and a walkthrough as a defensive back entering the game. Graham announced a week ago that Lewis would be used on defense. He was used in two packages Saturday, playing both nickel cornerback and free safety.
“He did a really good job. I was really proud of him,” Graham said. “He obviously didn’t have much time to learn what he was doing.”
Lewis had so little time, in fact, that Graham asked him two hours before the game, “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
“He said ‘Yeah, I do,'” Graham recalled. “He’s a great athlete and he wants to play. His role, as he learns, will continue to increase, but I see him being a guy that plays for us.”
Graham didn’t rule out Lewis playing some offense this year but said the redshirt sophomore will practice strictly with the defense. Lewis was moved to create more depth in the secondary and because he was buried on the depth chart at running back.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
— Graham was asked about the decision to have redshirt freshman Michael Eubank run the ball on two straight plays from the 1-yard line as ASU tried for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Eubank was stopped both times, and Taylor Kelly came in on fourth down but threw an interception. Graham said one of Eubank’s carries was supposed to go to Grice but didn’t because of a miscommunication, but the series was the first time the two-quarterback system really didn’t work for ASU. Graham said it would be evaluated but stressed that Kelly is the team’s quarterback and Eubank will continue to play.
— Despite getting called out by Graham last week, the receivers weren’t noticeably better. ASU was charged with three dropped passes but missed at least two or three more catchable balls. Graham liked the group’s effort but said there were too many drops.
— ASU committed seven penalties against Missouri for 54 yards, 19 more than its total through two games. Graham didn’t take issue with the number, though, chalking 15 of those yards up to an inadvertent facemask and another 15 to a personal foul for helmet-to-helmet contact on linebacker Chris Young. Graham wouldn’t comment on Young’s penalty but clearly didn’t agree with the call. ASU still ranks seventh in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game with 29.67.
— Graham said ASU’s offense had issues with the quarterback’s cadence against Missouri, particularly on third downs, due to the loud road atmosphere. ASU played crowd noise during practices leading up to the game but will have to figure out how to improve on-field communication in road settings.
— Freshman safety Laiu Moeakiola returned Saturday after missing a game with a hamstring injury.
— Redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Magee had an interception Saturday, giving ASU seven on the season, tied with three teams for most in the nation.
— ASU announced Sunday that its Sept. 29 road game against Cal will start at 1 p.m. PST and air on FX.