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ESPN: Key numbers behind Arizona State’s 2-2 start

Southern California's Cameron Smith (35) sacks Arizona State's Mike Bercovici, right, during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. Southern California defeated Arizona State 42-14. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona State’s 42-14 loss to USC confirmed fears from less-than-inspiring non-conference performances against Cal Poly and New Mexico.

What’s the theme behind ASU’s 2-2 start?

Turnovers obviously hurt the Sun Devils, but it’s not the only concerning statistic. There are a few.

ESPN Insider Adam Rittenberg looked at a number of teams that surprisingly are struggling this season, pulling out a few key statistics that need to be addressed. He also tapped into the coaching community to seek answers.

At ASU, there’s not one thing to blame.

Let’s start with quarterback Mike Bercovici, whose offensive line hasn’t protected — only four FBS teams have allowed more than ASU’s 14 sacks through four games.

On the other side of the ball, head coach Todd Graham expected improved defensive line depth this year, giving the Sun Devils the ability to pressure quarterbacks without leaving themselves vulnerable by blitzing.

Yet after leading all FBS teams in blitzing last season, Arizona State is blitzing 66 percent of the time on dropbacks, per ESPN. That’s 10 percent more than the second-most blitz-happy squad in a Power 5 conference (for perspective, the average Power 5 school blitzes just 26 percent of the time, according to ESPN).

The blitzing is sometimes related to the next statistic Rittenberg dolls out: ASU ranks 110th out of 127 FBS schools by allowing opponents to convert 47.3 percent of their third downs.

On Saturday, USC took advantage of Arizona State on third down, converting 10-of-16 of those plays. Sometimes, it was the Trojans countering blitzes with quick passes. Other times, poor tackling or assignment miscues resulted in failed defensive stops.

Rittenberg asked anonymous assistant coaches from Power 5 conferences about Arizona State’s early issues. Their guesses are as good as ours.

“Are they putting the reins on the quarterback? That guy’s a pretty good player,” a Power 5 assistant said.

“Arizona State doesn’t look like Arizona State,” a Power 5 defensive assistant said. “Maybe the chemistry just isn’t there.”

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