Timely takeaways negate penalties in ASU’s blowout win over Southern Utah
TEMPE, Ariz. — Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.
No. 25 Arizona State defeated the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 41-14 in the 2021 season opener at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday night, the first home game in front of fans on Frank Kush Field since 2019.
ASU got off to a fast start thanks to some complementary football from all three phases, which included four takeaways from the defense in the first half alone and three in the first quarter.
And despite committing 11 penalties for 120 yards in the opening 30 minutes — including kicking the opening kickoff out of bounds — Arizona State negated those mistakes by forcing turnovers at key times and capitalizing with points on offense.
ASU finished the contest with a total of 13 penalties for 135 yards — including the ejection of DL Tyler Johnson after a targeting penalty — the most in over a decade in school history and the most in the Herm Edwards era.
“I told the team after the game that the Sun Devils actually played the Sun Devils tonight,” Edwards said postgame. “It was bad football. It was sloppy football. It was embarrassing football to be quite honest.
“That being said, I’ve never had a bad win. We ended up winning. So with that being said, there’s a lot of things we have to improve on obviously. When we stop playing the Sun Devils — because they’re not really on our schedule — we might have a chance to be a pretty good football team. But tonight we were not, we were not a very good football team.”
Sun Devils DB DeAndre Pierce forced an interception on just the third play of the game, which Arizona State running back DeaMonte Trayanum scored on via a three-yard touchdown run on the very next play.
Southern Utah got to ASU’s 24-yard line on the ensuing drive after a roughing the punter penalty negated a three-and-out, but senior CB Jack Jones punched the ball out as the Sun Devils recovered the fumble. Arizona State senior RB Rachaad White finished the following offensive drive with a 26-yard TD run to make it 13-0 Sun Devils just over six minutes into the first quarter.
Perhaps the biggest momentum killer of the night came after Southern Utah recovered a pooch onside kick at the ASU 33-yard line following a touchdown to make it 13-7 Sun Devils. But ASU linebacker Darien Butler picked off Thunderbirds QB Justin Miller at the Arizona State 30-yard line in what ended up being the closest Southern Utah would come to tying the ballgame the rest of the night.
And just before ASU took a 28-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, Butler got his second interception of the night at his own 17-yard line with 16 seconds left.
“I promise you this is not going to be our best performance on defense,” Butler said. “We’re going to tighten up the screws. We’re going to tighten a lot up from the line of scrimmage to the secondary.
“So everything, everybody going to be a lot better. We’re going to clean up everything in practice this week and we’re going to be flying around and communicating a whole lot more than we did this week. I promise you.”
The second half left much to be desired, as ASU won the half 13-7 after quarterback Jayden Daniels left the game in the third quarter after cramping. The junior said postgame that he was fine.
In addition to Arizona State sending the opening kickoff out of bounds, kicker Logan Tyler was 2-for-4 on PATs, the first of which was blocked and caused the Sun Devils to go for and convert a two-point conversion.
Edwards called the kicking situation “interesting to say the least. Very interesting.”
“It’s the first game and when you’re the coach in the first game, you just have this gut feeling of eh, what is this going to look like?” Edwards said. “Because you really don’t know. You kind of think you know, but you don’t know. You just say how is this going to look and it was bad. …
“Not just young guys, but some of the older guys. This team wanted to play football and I knew it and they were so excited about playing but they got emotional — they wanted to go. I said slow down, you’re not going to win the game in the first quarter. It’s a four quarter football game. So hopefully we learn some things from this and we can tighten it up. We have to tighten it up if we want to be a good football team.”
Arizona State hosts UNLV on Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Catch all the action on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.