Arizona State offense works with new identity under OC Rob Likens

Sep 25, 2018, 2:54 PM

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) is tossed in the air by offensive lineman Steven Miller...

Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) is tossed in the air by offensive lineman Steven Miller (71) after Benjamin scored a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In Week 4, Arizona State came up just short in Seattle, falling to No. 10 Washington 27-20.

Offensively, the Sun Devils combined for 268 total yards, compared to the Huskies’ 373. ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens said he blames missed chances on offense for the loss.

We missed some opportunities,” Likens said. “It is what it is. I can’t wait, and these kids can’t wait, to get back on the field on Saturday.”

Against UW, Likens and the offense changed up the run game by implementing gap-scheme blocking.

You know it went really well,” Likens said. “We wanted to get some gap scheme stuff in, and I think it fits the personality of our offense — they’re athletic and big.”

In contrast, teams that run more of a spread offense typically focus on zone blocking. Likens, however, said he thinks this team could be a threat pounding the gaps.

I never wanted to just be a zone team,” Likens said. “I think you can pound on people a little bit. Football is still a contact sport, and you try to play to the human element of the game and bruise people up.”

After a dismal performance against San Diego State, the run game shined against Washington. The unit combined for 164 yards and two touchdowns, averaging just over four yards per carry.

“We want to be able to run the football — Herm stated that when he took the job,” Likens said. “We wanted to have a different identity; we wanted to be a little more downhill-type football team that puts pressure on you to kind of put guys in the box and take that portion of your game away.”

Eno Benjamin led the Sun Devils in rushing against Washington, eclipsing 100 yards for the second time this season. But he wasn’t the only back that showed promise in the loss.

Sophomore running back Trelon Smith ran for 45 yards on just eight carries, showing physicality against a strong defense. He did, however, lose a fumble in the third quarter when the Sun Devils were driving down the field.

“I thought he did well and had the one critical mistake,” Likens said. “It’s hard for him, it’s hard for me, it’s hard for the offense to look past things like that, and he knows that. And there’s nobody that’s more down than him right now.”

Another back who has been instituted in the system recently is Nick Ralston.

Once a running back, Ralston started the season on the defensive side, playing linebacker. However, he appeared in several offensive packages against UW as a fullback.

Likens said having Ralston back on offense gives the unit another leader.

The second he came over, you could tell a difference on our offense,” Likens said. “To come over from defense and sort out all the things he had to do in the game — that is amazing. That just speaks to how smart of a football player he is.”

Next up for Likens and the Sun Devils is a home game against Oregon State. The Beavers (1-3) most recently dropped their Pac-12 opener to fellow conference bottom feeder Arizona 35-14.

In their first four games, the Beavers have given up an average of 43.5 points per game, which is tied for 127th in the FBS.

Although Oregon State’s defense is statistically one of the worst in the nation, Likens said the Beavers still pose a threat defensively.

When you’re in that space, you basically have nothing to lose, so they’re dangerous,” Likens said. “They can do whatever they want to do cause they’re building that program — the pressure’s not on them. That’s always dangerous because they’re going to come up here and play loose and have fun.”

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