Uh-oh. The triple-option offense is back for another visit to Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State football welcomes the New Mexico Lobos tonight in the second of three straight home games and the final non-conference tilt before the Pac-12 schedule gets underway next week.
The Sun Devils are 1-1 on the season, suffering a huge setback to Texas A&M in the season opener and narrowly escaping with a 35-21 win over Cal Poly last week. Cal Poly, which is an FCS school and a heavy underdog, hung with the Devils for the first three quarters of the game. It wasn’t until the final eight minutes of the game that ASU pulled it together and scored the two touchdowns necessary to nail down the win.
For the first half of that game, Cal Poly’s triple-option offense gave ASU fits as the Sun Devils struggled with missed assignments as the defense tried to get a handle on the quick-hit style of play that Cal Poly used to attack the middle of the Devil defense.
The methodical ground-based offense enabled sophomore fullback Joe Protheroe to gobble up 130 yards against a Sun Devil defense that is struggling somewhat this year; ASU is averaging 231 yards per game in rush defense, which ranks No. 115 nationally.
And that statistic takes on expanded importance when you consider that New Mexico ranks No. 14 in rushing offense, with 281.5 yards per game.
But the Lobos’ offensive attack should be a little easier to manage because it’s not the same kind of triple option that Cal Poly threw at the Devils. New Mexico operates out of the shotgun, using triple-option principles. And theirs is more of an assault on the perimeter, rather than the quick dives to the interior that Cal Poly used so successfully in compiling 284 yards.
New Mexico is not a FCS school like Cal Poly, but will enjoy the same underdog status. A school of just 28,000 students, it plays in the Mountain West Conference and hasn’t beaten an ASU team since 1947. The Sun Devils have won the last 18 meetings.
Bob Davie is in his fourth year as the program’s head coach, bringing with him some big-school savvy from his five seasons as the Notre Dame head coach. But his 12-27 record shows the frustration his is dealing with. Last year, the two teams met in Albuquerque and ASU came back with a 58-23 win.
In that game, they piled up 621 yards of total offense to bury the Lobos. But this year the Devils are still trying to get on track with an offense that last year was explosive. Against Cal Poly, they managed just one play of more than 20 yards.
ASU head coach Todd Graham is also in his fourth year, but is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons. A win tonight would give Graham his 30th victory since taking over in Tempe, making him one of just three ASU coaches to hit that milestone by their fourth season.
And, if history is any indicator, Graham should notch the win to run his home record to 18-4.
However, this would be an especially bad time to stumble. Next week, the Arizona Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on an extension to Graham’s contract.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)