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There are many ways to look at Arizona State's performance against Illinois yesterday. During the game, in which the Fighting Illini upset the Sun Devils 17-14, frustration would be the key word.
The team was undisciplined on both sides of the ball, and sacrificing 91 yards over eight penalties is no way to win a football game. With two interceptions and a fumble lost, the Devils truly let this road opportunity slip away.
On Friday, we discussed how Brock Osweiler had yet to play a truly great football game on the road. As of today, he still hasn't achieved that goal. Last night's performance was reminiscent of the win over Arizona last December, though the end result was markedly different. Osweiler only completed 25/45 passes for 256 yards -- a far cry from his incredible home performances against UCLA and Missouri.
"You can't have bad plays, you can't have turnovers. I had three of them alone," Osweiler said after the game. "The margin for error is tiny on the road." Once again, Osweiler learned that the hard way.
Something to consider for Sun Devils fans: the defense played very well against this mobile quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase. In total, ASU gave up 105 yards on 45 carries, an average of 2.3 yards a carry that should impress the casual observer.
At 2-1, Arizona State is still 0-0 in conference play and can make a run at the Pac-12 South title if the conditions are right. With a big game against USC next on the schedule, the Sun Devils can either erase this game from their memories or fall into another disappointing season in maroon and gold.
Hopefully, coach Dennis Erickson can stop the undisciplined play his team exudes. The unfortunate news is that needless penalties and bonehead plays have been happening for years now, and there's no obvious end in sight.
For more on the Sun Devils, head to House Of Sparky.
Arizona State's lofty 2011 hopes took a blow on Saturday night as they fell 17-14 on the road to the Illinois Fighting Illini.
An action packed start of the game saw the Illinois offense and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase score on their opening possession. However, ASU responded quickly with a nice touchdown pass from Brock Osweiler to Gerrell Robinson. The Illini managed a short field goal late in the first quarter to give Illinois a 10-7 lead.
That would be the last scoring until the fourth quarter.
Arizona State's offensive line, having only allowed one sack all season, was manhandled all game long. Osweiler was hurried throughout the game and suffered six sacks.
As bad as ASU's offense was during the second and third quarter, their defense was that good. They held the Illini without a first down in the third quarter, and ended the third at the Illini nine yard line.
The fourth quarter opened with Osweiler scoring on a nine yard run to give the Devils their first lead of the day. Another dominant possession by the ASU defense seemed to shift momentum firmly in the Devils' favor, but their offensive line let them down.
Osweiler was sacked and the ensuing fumble was recovered by Illinoi at the ASU 41. Four plays later, Scheelhaase found A.J. Jenkins for a 16-yard touchdown to take the 17-14 lead.
ASU had their chances, but in each case was undone by the inability of the passing game to get into a rhythm due to the relentless pass rush. Their final drive ended with Osweiler taking futile shots downfield while being harassed.
The loss drops ASU to 2-1 as they open Pac-12 play next week when they host USC, a team they have not beaten since 1999.
After a first half heavy on defense and penalties, the Devils came out strong and forced the first three and out by the Illinois offense on the day.
Brock Osweiler found Gerrell Robinson on two key third downs and an Osweiler sneak converted a key 4th and inches at midfield to keep the drive alive. The drive appeared stalled but a fortuitous pass interference penalty gave ASU new life. That life was snuffed out as a tipped ball was intercepted by Jonathan Brown, who notched a sack on the previous play.
Fortunately, the ASU defense rose to the challenge and forced the second three and out in as many possessions.
The ensuing ASU drive was undone when Osweiler was sacked for the fifth time on the day, but the punt was muffed and recovered by Chris Coyle in Illinois territory. However, the drive was undone by a personal foul on Mike Marcisz and the Devils were forced to punt again. Good coverage pinned the Illini at their five yard line.
The Devils' defense, as they had since the first quarter, did it's job. Corey Adams made a sack on third down to force a punt that Jamal Miles fair caught at the Illini 45.
Some hard runs by a rejuvenated Cameron Marshall brought the Devils to the Illini 14 as the quarter ended.
Normally, this space is reserved for unbiased news reports. Today, I am writing as a very disappointed Arizona State alum.
At the half, ASU trails Illinois, 10-7. Words cannot say how undisciplined this team has looked. From the unnecessary penalties, muffed punts, missed field goals and terrible run defense, ASU has failed to live up to the expectations that have been lumped upon the Sun Devils in the 2011 season.
The Sun Devils had their chances, to be certain. Illinois turned the ball over three times, giving Brock Osweiler and company plenty of time to take advantage. Unfortunately for ASU fans, the game has gone very poorly from an offensive standpoint, a tone that was set on the first play of the game: Osweiler attempted a screen pass to Marshall, who was immediately tackled for a five yard loss.
It is very difficult to quantify how bad this first half was for the Sun Devils, though if you consider that ASU is only down by three points, it is still a very winnable game. However, for fans who thought 2011 was the year of destiny for Arizona State, a big dose of reality was served up by the Illini.
The No. 22 Arizona State Sun Devils trail the Illinois Fighting Illini 10-7 after one quarter of action. Both teams have had good offensive series so far but struggled to maintain possession at the end of the quarter.
The Sun Devils opened the game with possession but went three-and-out on their very first drive. Illinois pieced together a 38-yard drive to take the early lead on a one-yard touchdown run by Jason Ford.
ASU came right back and evened the score, using a 21-yard pass from quarterback Brock Osweiler to Gerell Robinson to tie the game 7-7. Illinois responded with a four minute drive that stalled in the red zone: the Sun Devil defense clamped down with Illinois at the Sun Devil two-yard line. Illinois settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead.
The Sun Devils put together a drive that initially held promise following the ensuing kickoff. Rashad Ross returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Sun Devil 46-yard line before Osweiler connected on a 34-yard pass to Mike Willie. In the red zone, however, Osweiler had his pass intercepted on 3rd-and-2 at the Illini 12-yard line.
The ASU defense, however, recovered the football on an Illinois fumble by Donovonn Young six plays later. ASU will open up the second quarter on the Illini 42-yard line.
Osweiler has 86 yards and one touchdown on 7-of-11 passing. Running back Cameron Marshall has carried ASU's ground game with 28 yards on four carries while Robinson leads ASU receivers with 35 yards and one touchdown on four receptions.
The Sun Devils have unveiled new uniforms in every game this season, starting with the traditional maroon-and-gold combination against UC Davis. Last weekend, Arizona State hosted a blackout and wore their all-black uniforms. Today, in their first road game of the season against Illinois, they flip the switch and will wear all white from helmet to shoe.
It should look like this, if this uniform generator is accurate:
The new look is crisp, clean and has earned rave reviews on television this season. In comparison to the new Maryland uniforms, anything else has to be considered a welcome change. Who knows what the Sun Devils will try against the USC Trojans at home next week.
The game begins at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time, and the Devils aim to go 3-0 for the first time since 2007. It will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
For more coverage of ASU, check out House Of Sparky, SB Nation's ASU blog.
Arizona State travels into Big Ten territory on Saturday afternoon, squaring off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a significant non-conference matchup. Both teams are 2-0, with Illinois beating Arkansas State and South Dakota State, while ASU defeated UC Davis and Missouri.
Teams: Arizona St. Sun Devils, Illinois Fighting Illini
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
TV: Broadcast nationally on Big Ten Network. Click here to find out what channel broadcasts BTN in your area.
Radio: 92.3 FM, KTAR 620 AM, SIRIUS 135
Rankings: The Sun Devils are ranked 22nd overall in the Associated Press poll and 18th in the USA Today Coaches poll. Illinois has not received votes in either poll.
Favorite: Illinois has a two point advantage, according to Bodog.
Last Meeting: The year was 1988, and the Sun Devils held off the Illini at home, 21-16.
Streaks: ASU has a four game winning streak that extends into last season, while Illinois is riding a three-game streak. The Sun Devils are 2-0 all-time against the Illini.
A thrilling Blackout win now has Arizona State back in the Top 25 in both polls as they travel for their first road game of the season at Illinois (2-0).
In their 37-30 overtime win over Missouri, ASU showed the good (their offense), the bad (501 yards allowed) and ugly (12 penalties) of which the team is capable. With a tough road test ahead of them, let's take a look at the most critical keys to a Sun Devil win.
1st - Tackle, Tackle, Tackle
ASU safety Eddie Elder said this week that the coaching staff counted 28 missed tackles in the game against Missouri. The way they played, I'm surprised that number is not much higher.
Outside of Colin Parker, who did a great job of making sound tackles and had several outstanding open field stops, the entire defense was lackadaisical with their tackling fundamentals. Whether it was the ESPN cameras, Blackout atmosphere or just poor discipline, ASU defenders consistently went for a flashy knockout blow instead of a wrap-up tackle, and Missouri ball carriers made them pay. They also often over-pursued and were left vulnerable to cutback runs.
The Sun Devil defense is among the most talented in the nation, but their lack of discipline can be their undoing. Being unable to do the single most basic thing required of a defensive player will cost this team a victory if not rectified immediately.
Perhaps they need to learn from Terry Tate?
2nd - Contain Scheelhaase
Last week, Missouri's quarterback James Franklin, in only his second career start and coming into a hostile environment, had the game of his career. He threw for 319 yards and ran for 84 (he topped 100 if sack yardage is not factored in) and almost single-handedly kept the Tigers in the ballgame.
This week the Devils face an equally dynamic, and likely more polished, player in Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
As a freshman last season, Scheelhaase had an excellent 17-8 touchdown to interception ratio and set a school quarterback record with 868 yards rushing. This year, he is more experienced and all the more dangerous.
Scheelhaase is not surrounded by too many playmakers. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins is a fine receiver and running back Jason Ford is a powerful runner, but Scheelhaase is far and away the key cog in the Illini attack and the top threat to ASU.
The Sun Devil defensive line was nearly a total non-factor against Missouri. Defensive ends Junior Onyeali and Jamarr Jarrett will need much better performances this week to generate pressure on Scheelhaase and the linebacking corps will need to be diligent in their containment responsibilities when Scheelhaase looks to run.
3rd - Own the Ground
Since the time that Ron Zook took over as Illinois head coach in 2005, the Illini have rushed for more yards than any team in Big Ten. That doesn't figure to change any time soon, especially with the Illini coming off a season in which they ran the ball 619 times and only threw it 289, and that trend has continued through two weeks in 2011, with a 100-43 ratio.
In addition to the huge threat that Scheelhaase poses, the Illini have a good stable of running backs led by Jason Ford. The senior is a load at 235 pounds and already has three touchdowns on the year. He'll be blocked for by a very good offensive line that features two players-tackle Jeff Allen and center Graham Pocic-who earned All-Big Ten recognition a year ago. After ASU's defense was gutted for 182 yards last week, the Sun Devil front seven must step up their game significantly, as Illinois can chew up both yards and time, keeping the dangerous Sun Devil offense off the field.
The importance of controlling the ground translates to the offense as well. Cameron Marshall and Kyle Middlebrooks have combined for 144 yards through two games and Marshall is averaging a paltry 2.9 yards-per-carry. The offensive line was unable to generate any push last week, resulting in nowhere for ASU's backs to run. In a hostile environment, the run game will need to step up to take the crowd out of the game and take time off of the clock.
4th - Don't Look Ahead
While the big win over Missouri was certainly a step in the right direction, there were more than enough examples of the Devils' demons to make any fan wary about whether this team has the mental toughness and discipline necessary to make a run at the conference crown.
There are two primary reasons to fear a letdown in Champaign.
First, ASU may feel a sense of complacency after Friday night's win. For months, the Missouri game was hyped as a make-or-break game for the team, a sentiment that was enhanced by the move to Friday to accommodate a national television audience on ESPN and the debut of the black uniforms. Having won that game presents a danger of a "mission accomplished" feeling when in fact it is "mission just beginning".
Secondly, they must also not get caught looking ahead to next week's big game and conference opener against their old nemeses at USC. The Sun Devils have not beaten the Trojans since 1999, with many of those losses derailing promising seasons. This time, ASU should be the favorite and the game is at home. The Sun Devil coaching staff must stress that this season is a step-by-step journey and not merely a collection of big moments.
Goal - Execute
The simple fact of the matter is that the Sun Devils are the most talented team on both sides of the ball in this game.
That same fact was true in many of the team's losses last season, yet they lost those games not to the opposition but to themselves. Often times only ASU can beat ASU, and they nearly did that last week with 12 penalties and a blocked extra point.
What that boils down to is execution.
If ASU executes their offensive attack well, Brock Osweiler and his bevy of playmakers should have no problem putting 30 or more points up on the board.
The main question is on defense. If they wrap up the Illini ballcarriers and don't give them any extra yards via penalties, the defense should be able to pound Scheelhaase into a sub-par day and leave Champaign at 3-0.
As ASU's quarterback, Brock Osweiler has proven himself at Sun Devil Stadium. Over his career at home in Tempe, Osweiler has completed 98 out of 152 passes for 1341 yards, throwing eleven touchdowns and running for two more. Better yet, he's only thrown two interceptions.
When the show goes on the road, Osweiler has had mixed results.
As a true freshman, Osweiler started in Autzen Stadium against the Oregon Ducks, and it wasn't pretty. Not yet ready for the bright lights of Pac-10 football, Brock struggled before being injured, completing 5 out of 10 passes for 14 yards and an interception.
His second start in a road game, last season's epic 30-29 victory over the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, was marked by sloppy play on all sides of the ball. Osweiler went 22 for 49, but the key takeaway was several poorly thrown balls that were dropped by Arizona defenders.
In total, Osweiler has completed 31 of 70 passes on the road, a mere 44.2% completion rate. With 320 yards and an even 1-for-1 touchdown to interception ratio, the difficulties are well-documented.
The statistics don't lie: Osweiler has yet to have a truly great game on the road. He gets his next chance on Saturday afternoon against the Illinois Fighting Illini, and Sun Devils fans are hoping that the third time's a charm.
It's never easy traveling into Big Ten territory, and Illinois is no slouch. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl following their 9-3 campaign in 2007, but have fallen on hard times since then. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is attempting to spark resurgence in Champaign much like Osweiler is doing in Tempe, and the Illini are 2-0 so far this year.
The 2011 schedule is unforgiving, yet provides ample opportunity for Osweiler to plant himself firmly in the upper echelon of college football quarterbacks. In order to truly assert himself, a big game on the road would help him develop as a leader and quarterback for this Arizona State football team.
The Arizona State Sun Devils look to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2007 when they face the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday afternoon. Ranked in both polls, ASU is coming off a huge victory over then-ranked Missouri, a team that gave the Devils fits on the defensive side of the ball.
Fortunately, quarterback Brock Osweiler rose to the occasion, completing 24 of 32 passes for 353 yards while throwing three touchdowns and running in one more.
Osweiler knows how difficult it can be to prepare for a road game against a tough opponent, playing games against Oregon and Arizona in his young career.
"I have to come in and prepare the same way I do all week long," Osweiler said on Monday at the team's weekly press conference. "Come game day I just have to be locked in. Nothing really changes. We are going to a place where it is going to be a loud, energized environment."
Head coach Dennis Erickson agreed that traveling to face a Big Ten team can be very difficult, even for an experienced group such as Arizona State. He is not concerned about his team's ability to stay focused on a road trip.
"Traveling on the road is different every year. You travel probably better when you have some veteran leadership like we do, as far as focus and attention when you get on the road. We understand why we're going, and we're going to play a football game. When you have a lot of young guys sometimes they have a little trouble figuring that out," Erickson said.
"They get in the airplane, and get on the road for the first time, but this is a pretty good group of veteran players. We'll be focused and ready to go. We leave on Thursday, a day early, which I like. It gives us a chance to be together as a group for a couple of days. I think we get in there Thursday night late, and work out there and spend some time together. That's a good way to travel right now for us."
Erickson and his team will need to get their bearings as they face the Fighting Illini, a team that has outscored its opponents 89-18 and are only a one point underdog to the Sun Devils. Once again, ASU will have to contend with a mobile quarterback, but Nathan Scheelhaase is a special breed -- he can also throw quite well.
"[Scheelhaase is] an extremely good quarterback - very, very athletic," Erickson said. "He came in last year and led them to a lot of victories. He's very talented, has a lot of leadership, very competitive. He moves around a lot. He's not quite as big as [James] Franklin, as far as height and weight, but he's very, very athletic and makes a lot of things happen."
A lot of things are standing in the way of the Sun Devils pulling off a big road victory on Saturday: a hostile Big Ten stadium, an impressive quarterback on the other sideline, being a team that just won an emotional thriller on Friday night against the Tigers.
But ASU is not about to let their dream season go down the drain, and Osweiler summed it up best: "we just have to be locked in when we get on that plane on Thursday and understand what we are going to Illinois to do -- that is, to play a great football game and hopefully come out with a win."
The Sun Devils take on the Fighting Illini at 4:00 PM Pacific time on the Big Ten Network.
Good chemistry between QB, receiver is indicative of Arizona State's chemistry as a team.
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