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As Arizona State's offense struggles, passing game remains key issue

The Arizona State offense has underwhelmed as of late, and it’s become even more concerning for head coach Herm Edwards.

In a 24-10 loss at Oregon State, the lack of offense became even more alarming as ASU hit multiple season-lows against a Beavers defense that ranked seventh in the Pac-12. ASU churned out a measly 10 points, its lowest point total of the season, on a season-low 266 yards.

All the while Oregon State’s defense packed the middle and reduced ASU’s run game to 100 yards; star running back Rachaad White only had 39 yards. As efficient as ASU’s running game has been, it hurt tremendously to not have the passing game on the same level against Oregon State.

“I think the trajectory is the passing game. The running game has been pretty good, last week, not so much," Edwards said. "They piled up on us and got us in some bad downs and we weren’t able to run the ball like we had liked to. With that being said, if you have an efficient passing game, that helps you.

“We wanted to be a little more explosive with the wide receiver position and in the passing game and we’ve seen it in spots. Lately, it hasn’t been what you want. I’m not criticizing, it’s what it is. I’m not pointing my finger at a coach or a player, we just got to come together collectively and get more off of our passing game.”

The receiving group has been so depleted all season that White has made his way into second on the list with 425 yards. His one receiving touchdown is just one away from placing him in the current three-way tie for most touchdowns (two). Arizona State’s receiving group has only accounted for 10 of the 43 touchdowns scored this season.

It’s not a complete stretch for the receivers to carry the offensive load, either. Against UCLA, the Sun Devils outmatched the Bruins with 287 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Ricky Pearsall, ASU’s leading receiver in games played, took over with 132 yards and two touchdowns.

But since the Oct. 2 road game, the receiving group hasn’t performed up to those expectations, and it’s been tough without having a receiver becoming the go-to target for quarterback Jayden Daniels. He has struggled with consistency all season long, especially after coming from his freshman season with Brandon Aiyuk as his top receiver. Edwards said that the offense still doesn’t have that guy yet.

“The chemistry with the guys being out of the lineup with Jayden hasn’t helped ...” Edwards said. “We have some good players, but they’re young. These guys have been in and out of the lineup. I’m not making any excuses, but that’s the reality of it.”

Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) passes as Oregon State defensive back Akili Arnold (0) comes in for a hit during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore.
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) passes as Oregon State defensive back Akili Arnold (0) comes in for a hit during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore.

Out of the 13 active receivers on the team, only two have played all 11 games, while four have played 10 games and three have played nine games. The other four have played between eight to five games.

Injuries have plagued the roster regardless of position, but the receiving group has consistently been shorn. Johnny Wilson, a promising tight end, has seen limited action this season with only five games, with one game including the Washington State game where he exited with a reaggravated hamstring injury. Tight end Curtis Hodges was absent at Oregon State after being one of five players involved in a car accident on campus after practice days before the game.

Offensive line issues

As the offense sputtered against Oregon State, the offensive line fell behind in its duties.

Oregon State’s defense came in ranked 10th in sacks, but managed to get to Daniels three times in the game, including on the Sun Devils' final drive in the fourth quarter.

But what really crippled ASU’s offense was seven false starts on offense, including three on offensive lineman Spencer Lovell, who filled in for the injured Henry Hattis. Two false starts came in during the final drive.

“It’s just concentration, simple as that. It’s knowing that this is what they’re going to do, we practice it, we have the loud music, we do everything ...” Edwards said. “We got to do a better job of concentration, that’s all. I can’t do anymore, I can’t coach it. We were fine in that game until the last quarter and then it appears again.”

Arizona State as a team has allowed 8.4 penalties per game, ranking it 125th in the nation.

Reach the reporter at jenna.ortiz@arizonarepublic.com or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Passing game continues to be problem for Arizona State football