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The 5: Things we have learned about ASU football through 8 games

Arizona State players prepare to enter the field before an NCAA college football game against UCLA Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In a season with a lot of high peaks, Arizona State enters its second bye-week in a valley.

The Sun Devils are 5-3 after losing two straight games on the road to Utah and UCLA. Neither game was in reach by the end, and ASU lost its spot in the AP-Top 25. But, ASU has some high-caliber teams to play and can jump back in with a strong finish to the season.

Here are five things we have learned from Arizona State over its first eight games:

ASU does not start well

It is hard to break out of an early hole, and ASU has found itself in many of those this season.

The Devils have scored 24 points total in first quarters this year, the second-lowest average in the Pac-12. In four of their last five games, they have had a double-digit deficit in the first half.

Head coach Herm Edwards and his staff have done well at adjustments in-game to allow ASU to catch fire eventually, like against Washington State, but the poor starts have been condemning in certain games.

With USC and Oregon matchups approaching, the Devils can’t afford to start in a 10-0 hole.

Jayden Daniels continues to impress

Through six games, the true freshman quarterback looked about as good as one can ask for. He had just one interception, knew when to run, knew how to slide and showed great pocket presence.

That was challenged in a frigid, punishing game against Utah where the Utes broke through the ASU offensive line on just about every play.

It was an ugly outing for Daniels, but a learning experience and at the post-game presser he was not shy in saying that.

Against UCLA, ASU trailed 42-10 entering the fourth quarter, but Daniels kept playing hard and threw for three touchdowns in the frame to give the Bruins some pressure.

He appears to have a competitive will that keeps him into games even when trailing. He is also a very good decision maker with just two interceptions this year and 60.5% passing even after a 4-for-18 performance at Utah.

Daniels was named to The Athletic’s midseason freshman All-American team and was placed on the Football Writers Association of America’s watchlist for the Freshman All-American Team.

Eno Benjamin will get his

In Week 8 at Utah, ASU got pummeled on offense, except for one part.

Halfback Eno Benjamin bounced off of defenders, worked for extra yards and did everything he could to propel the offense forward. The Devils got smoked 21-3 and had just 136 total yards, but Benjamin had 104 of them on the ground.

Despite offensive line rotations and uncertainty, Benjamin has had a very productive season with 679 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

He ran for at least 100 yards in three straight games before last week at UCLA when the offense had to rely on the pass due to its early deficit. He was nominated for the Earl Campbell Player of the Week award twice this year.

He won’t reach the 1,642 yards he gained last season, but he could get to 1,000 yards, which would be a major accomplishment in a shifting offense.

The pass defense looks like a bend-but-don’t-break one

ASU allows a lot of yardage through the air (243 per game) and a high completion percentage (63.5 %).

But, opponents are gaining just 6.9 yards per attempt and have thrown for 11 touchdowns through the air, both fifth in the conference.

The Devils are one of 13 FBS teams that have not allowed a 50-yard reception and have the second-most passed defended in the Pac-12 behind Utah.

This is a major testament to how well the secondary has played for most of the year.

(AP Photo/Al Goldis)

The defensive line has largely struggled to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks, which puts a lot more responsibility on the defensive backs to stick with their guy. The Devils have not allowed a lot of big plays through the air which gives them more chances to keep their opponents out of striking range.

However, the amount of completed passes they allow is concerning, and aids in a massive issue this team has.

Third downs are a problem

Through eight games, ASU has been poor at converting on third down and stopping opponents on third down.

Last week was a great example.

UCLA had a 16-play scoring drive in the first half in which it converted on a third-and-13, third-and-nine and third-and-two to reach the end zone.

On ASU’s next possession, it had third-and-one on UCLA’s 33-yard line, but failed to convert and was forced to punt after a false start on fourth down.

Then UCLA drove for its second-straight 16-play drive with multiple third-down conversions and scored a touchdown again.

This year, ASU is eighth in the Pac-12 in offensive third-down conversion percentage at 40.2%.

On defense, the Devils allow opponents to convert on 44% of third downs, 102nd-best out of 130 FBS teams.

In tandem, these feats cause the defense to be on the field more (32 minutes per game) and can allow opponents to control the pace and work to wear out the Devils’ defense.

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