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Following loss to San Diego State, it’s tough to find many wins for ASU

Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, middle, loses control of the football as he tries to throw a pass against San Diego State during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. San Diego State defeated Arizona State 30-20. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State honored former coach Frank Kush before Saturday’s game against San Diego State by painting the classic Sunburst logo at midfield. The Sun Devils also wore the logo on their helmets.

Coach Todd Graham said in his pregame radio spot that Kush would have enjoyed the game about to be played at Sun Devil Stadium because it was destined to be old fashioned, smash-mouthed football.

Unfortunately for the Devils, it was San Diego State that brought the physical play, not ASU. The Aztecs rushed for 279 yards — 216 by running back Rashaad Penny — and their impressive defense held ASU to 44 rushing yards to post a 30-20 win.

“Obviously, a very disappointing night,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “We wanted to a lot better job of honoring Frank tonight with this game. You’ve got to give them credit. They did a good job. We did a very, very poor job. We did a poor job of coaching and a poor job of executing and playing.”

It was San Diego State’s first win over ASU in 12 tries (1-10-1) and the loss raised fair questions about ASU’s ability to manage the rest of its schedule.

The Devils face Texas Tech (1-0) next week in a nonconference road game before opening a murderous Pac-12 stretch against Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Utah, USC, Colorado and UCLA. Those seven teams are a combined 13-1.

“The season isn’t over,” defiant quarterback Manny Wilkins said, taking umbrage to a reporter’s question about how the Devils would bounce back from this loss. “That was like a your-season’s-over question. It’s just go to the next game and just go play ball and that’s what we’re here to do. Sometimes you’re gonna lose a game. It’s gonna happen. You’ve just got to go to the next game.”

San Diego State (2-0) is a good football team. The Aztecs have won back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles and Penny is legitimate running back. That said, the Sun Devils have a host of issues to fix before they travel to Lubbock, Texas.

Their offensive line couldn’t open holes for running back Kalen Ballage. Ballage played sparingly late because Graham said he was nicked up, and backfield mate Demario Richard was unavailable due to a knee injury. Through two games, the offense has no identity.

The defense couldn’t get off the field on third down despite putting the Aztecs in a number of third-and-long situations.

The specials teams allowed a 99-yard kickoff return by Penny, and injured punter Michel Sleep-Dalton’s 12-yard punt late in the first half allowed San Diego State to tack on a field goal for a 20-14 halftime lead, thanks also to poor clock management by the Sun Devils offense.

“It was a disaster special teams-wise,” Graham said. “Field position was huge for us and I think that was a really big factor.”

Despite all those issues, ASU had a chance to take the lead early in the third quarter when deep threat John Humphrey got a step on his defender and Wilkins put a ball on the mark in the end zone. It slipped through Humphrey’s hands, ASU failed on a fourth down play and San Diego State took advantage of a short field and a blown coverage to take a 27-14 lead on Penny’s 33-yard touchdown catch.

“All those things add up,” defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood said. “Add up to a loss.”

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