TEMPE, Ariz. — Why is first-and-goal from the 1-yard line such a chore for Arizona State?
In each of the past three games, the Sun Devils have lined up a single yard from the end zone and failed to score a touchdown.
Against Cal Poly, ASU rushed for no gain, rushed for a one-yard loss and threw an incomplete pass before quarterback Mike Bercovici was intercepted on fourth down.
In the New Mexico game, the Sun Devils faced a first-and-goal from the Lobos’ 1-yard line in the second quarter. They rushed twice for a loss of four yards and Bercovici missed tight end Kody Kohl on third down. They settled for a 22-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez.
Last week, though, might have been the most egregious failure to punch home a touchdown.
With USC leading 21-0 late in the second quarter, ASU advanced to the USC 1, but on the 10th play of the drive, Bercovici mishandled the snap from backup center Stephon McCray, who was pressed into action due to an injury to Nick Kelly. The loose football was picked up by Chris Hawkins and returned 94 yards the other way for a touchdown.
“We obviously have to execute better when we get down there,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said Wednesday. “That’s something that we’ve been working hard at and so we definitely have to clean up the execution. Some decision making, when bad things do happen, we got to make sure we’re making great decisions in that. I got to call better (plays) when we get down there and make sure we get the ball in the end zone.”
In 18 trips inside the red zone this season, the Sun Devils have scored 14 times, including 11 touchdowns (six run, five pass).
Three times (once on downs) they’ve turned the ball over and missed a field goal.
Their efficiency inside the 20-yard line ranks 10th in the Pac-12 and 93rd nationally.
On most of the red-zone snaps, Bercovici is in the shotgun, as he was against USC, a decision that did not sit well with head coach Todd Graham.
“I can tell you what I vote for: not being in the gun, I can tell you that,” he said on the postgame show.
Asked about having the quarterback in shotgun formation versus under center when near the goal line, Norvell explained the run-threat is greater with either the quarterback or another ball carrier.
“I know there’s probably bigger room for error the closer you get with being in the shotgun and you understand that, but there’s also another option and a different threat of who could run the football rather than just having to do a naked or boot your quarterback (outside the pocket),” he said.
“All that stuff is thought through and it’s part of scheme, part of concepts; just things that we look at and we have the ability to do both.”
The offense has also struggled to get the ball to D.J. Foster, perhaps ASU’s best playmaker.
Through four games, Foster has rushed the ball 21 times for 111 yards and caught 22 passes for 189 yards. He’s averaging just over 10 touches per game, and in none of those three first-and-goal from the 1 scenarios was he either handed the ball or targeted.
“When we have an opportunity to throw to D.J, we like to throw to D.J,” Norvell said. “That’s something we’re going to continue to do, continue to try to find ways to get him the football and make sure we have an opportunity for him to impact the game.”
As rough as a performance as the Sun Devils exhibited against USC, they had better make the necessary improvements, and fast.
The opponent this week, UCLA (4-0), is ranked seventh in the country.
“Have we played as well as I want us to? No. We haven’t. Everything you see on that field I’m 100 percent responsible for. I have not done a good enough job, and we’re working on continuing to improve that,” Norvell said.
“I’ve got 100 percent confidence in our guys, what we’re going to do, the way that we’ve worked, the way that we’re continuing to work and practice and improve, and so for us, it’s just about going out and getting it done. My expectations have not changed one bit for what I think this offense can be, what I think we’re going to be, we just got to go out and do it.”