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ASU football’s defense a bright spot going into game at Michigan State

Linebacker Merlin Robertson #8 of the Arizona State Sun Devils tackles quarterback Kevin Thomson #5 of the Sacramento State Hornets during the second half of the NCAAF game at Sun Devil Stadium on September 06, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona State football head coach Herm Edwards was asked how he was doing on Monday. He said he was fine, until he started watching the film from Friday’s game. It was that sort of weekend for the Sun Devils.

That comment to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf is strange when you consider that ASU beat Sacramento State 19-7 and shut out the Hornets through three quarters, but not if you consider the performance of the offense for most of the contest.

The Sun Devils led only 3-0 at halftime over an FCS school on their home field in Tempe, an especially concerning sight with a road game against Michigan State coming up on Saturday.

The offensive line struggled, and as Edwards admitted, had a lot of missed assignments. It forced freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels — known coming in to college as a dual-threat quarterback — to use his legs outside the pocket to keep plays alive. Still, he managed to finish the day with 304 passing yards and 24 rushing yards.

“He’s been pretty good, to be quite honest, what he’s been able to accomplish the past two weeks,” Edwards said. “He’s done a pretty good job for a young guy, he really has. He’s been under duress, and he’s made some plays outside the pocket with his legs. He’s more nifty than people give him credit for. And he knows when the journey’s over. That’s the most important thing with him. I keep telling him that. ‘Hey, know when this thing’s over now. You get down, buddy.'”

But as the offensive line and other facets of the offensive side of the ball have come out of the gate slowly through two weeks, an obvious bright spot has been the defense. Arizona State has allowed only 14 points through two games, and sits at 21st out of 130 FBS teams in total defense, nestled in the rankings between Ohio State and Georgia.

“They’ve been pretty good. Can you imagine if the offense was just kind of flowing? People would be talking about the defense,” Edwards said. “We’ve only given up 14 points in two games. I keep telling [defensive coordinator] Danny [Gonzales], ‘If you keep doing that, we’ve got a chance to win a lot of games.'”

Michigan State is 13th in total defense.

“They’ve got a solid program,” Edwards said of the Spartans. “They’re just solid in all three phases. Really good defense.”

Edwards noted that the MSU defense has seven starters coming back and doesn’t give too much. The Spartans have a quarterback in Brian Lewerke (formerly of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix) who can make plays with his legs. Edwards also believes the Michigan State offense is more spread out now than it has been in years past.

Last year, ASU trailed No. 15 Michigan State 13-3 in the fourth quarter but scored 13 unanswered points to win 16-13 on a field goal as time expired. MSU (2-0) is now ranked No. 18 after home wins over Tulsa and Western Michigan, outscoring those teams a combined 79-24.

The Sun Devils won’t have the advantage of playing in the Arizona heat this time around.

Maybe it’s hard to ask a freshman quarterback to upset Michigan State on the road after ASU lost its top receiving threat to the NFL Draft this offseason in N’Keal Harry. But if the defense continues its stingy play and the offense can build off its mistakes after two weeks of play, ASU put up a fight in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday.

You can hear that game on ESPN 620 AM at 1 p.m. MST.

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