Herm Edwards: ASU needs to be cleaner, smarter as Pac-12 play begins
TEMPE — Arizona State opens up Pac-12 Conference play against the Colorado Buffaloes at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night.
And unfortunately for head coach Herm Edwards and Co., ASU finds itself no longer ranked following a 27-17 loss to the then-ranked No. 23 BYU Cougars (now No. 15).
“They’re disappointed, they’re disappointed,” Edwards said Monday of his captains’ emotions after the loss. “… The one thing I will say, this team has never not played hard. They play physical. We’re just not playing smart. Since we’ve been here, this team always competes. It leaves everything they have on the grass.
“They don’t ever leave the field and go, ‘Hey man we didn’t…’ No, no, no. I never worry about that. That’s the least of my worries as a head coach — them playing hard, playing physical, competing. We didn’t play smart and we have to get that fixed. We have to get that fixed. We just have to play smart and when you do that, you have a chance.”
Arizona State’s season has followed a theme through the first three games of 2021: penalties.
The Sun Devils have a whopping 36 penalties for a total of 319 yards through non-conference play this year. Those metrics mean that ASU is averaging 12 penalties for 106.33 yards a game.
To put that in perspective, Arizona State allowed 13 penalties for 135 yards in the 41-14 win over Southern Utah — the most ever in the Edwards era — only to commit 16 penalties for 121 yards against BYU.
“Well it’s us, it was really us, right?” Edwards said. “We played against us. We put ourselves in a bad position offensively and defensively.
“We gave them yards that weren’t earned by them making a play. It was by us misfiring or making a silly penalty. Those are those hidden yards that add up on you when you play a good team and you give them another possession when you should be off the field or you give them 15 more yards. It just contributes to all that.”
And while Arizona State has been able to overcome the majority of the miscues to the tune of a 2-1 record, Edwards and his team know that as conference play opens up and the competition gets stiffer, like BYU this past weekend, the amount of penalties has to go down in order for the Sun Devils to have a chance of competing in the Pac-12 South.
“To play a game like that against a good opponent, it’s going to be very difficult to win when you turn the ball over and you put yourself in a bad position numerous times due to your own miscues,” Edwards said. “That can’t be a part of it. Hopefully it’s a good learning lesson for us.
“Because if you’re a good football team, you’re going to average maybe four to five fouls a game. Last year we were that. Since I’ve been here we’ve been that. Now that number is catastrophic and you can’t survive playing football like that — good football. And we feel like we have a pretty good football team here. But we can’t win games when you play like that, it’s very difficult.”
The Sun Devils’ best game in the yellow laundry department thus far on the 2021 season was the 37-10 win over UNLV when ASU had seven penalties for 63 yards.
“When you go through these peaks and valleys, you have to figure out how to get back to the peaks,” Edwards said. “We’re in a little bit of a slump. We lost a game against a good football team.
“But it’s the way we lost that bothers us. That’s what bothers all of us. It bothers me a lot. The fact that we didn’t really give ourselves a chance. I’m not taking anything away from BYU. … But we did some things to ourselves that we cannot continue to play like that because it’s going to be very difficult to win if we do.”
Edwards has a crystal clear goal for his team against Colorado this weekend: play cleanly.
And even though it is literally impossible to play a perfect game, don’t try to prevent the ASU head coach from striving for perfection on each and every play.
“We need to play a clean game, that’s next on the horizon. Can we just play a clean football game? Just play clean,” Edwards said. “Don’t turn the ball over, don’t get a bunch of penalties. Just play a clean game and see what that looks like.
“We might lose. Not saying we’re going to win if we play a clean game. But at least you walk out of the ballyard saying, ‘Hey look, we didn’t beat ourselves. We didn’t give them extra opportunities.’ That’s what you want and that’s what players want, that’s what coaches want. That’s what you strive for. This game is about perfection. You’re always trying to be perfect.”