5 takeaways from Arizona State’s opening Pac-12 loss to Utah

The Arizona State Sun Devils fell to 1-3 with a 34-13 loss to Utah in their Pac-12 opener Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

ASU was never in this one, trailing 14-0 after the first quarter and 24-6 at halftime. The game wasn’t even as close as the final score as Utah substituted loose in the second half and much of ASU’s yardage against saves.

It was Shaun Aguano’s debut as interim head coach following the departure of Herm Edwards last Sunday.

Our main contest takeaways.

Sep 24, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  Utah defenseman Tyler Wegis (12) coaches ASU wide receiver Cam Johnson (7) at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday.  Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic

1. The Offensive Line Needs Significant Improvement

It all starts up front, whether it’s blocking for the running backs or providing pass protection for the quarterback and the Sun Devils forward has looked shaky. ASU struggled there last week and that was only against Eastern Michigan. Utah has always boasted of a tenacious defensive front, which further exposed the Sun Devils’ deficiency there. It didn’t help that one of the veterans ASU relied on, Iowa State transfer Joey Ramos, was out for the season with an ankle injury sustained in Game 1. Quarterback Emory Jones was sacked five times (for a loss of 45 yards), including two on ASU’s first possession and the Sun Devils were pinned at their own 5. Jones had little time to place and throw and spent much of the game trying to escape the pressure.

2. The third offense remains a problem

The Sun Devils entered the contest ranked 120th out of 131 FBS schools in third conversions at 28.6 percent (10 for 35).

Saturday’s performance did nothing to improve that as the Sun Devils capitalized on just three of 11 attempts. The ASU offense struggled much of the night and were third and long most of the time, but even on shorter tries they had issues. In the third quarter, the Sun Devils had a third-and-2 at their own 33 and couldn’t even grab that. The game was a run from Jones and he lost a yard.

3. Problems are a growing concern

No, injuries weren’t the reason ASU lost, but the Sun Devils are very thin in a few positions, the defensive line and the secondary in particular.

ASU was at its No. 3 at a corner with Ro Torrence injured and Keon Markham unavailable for undisclosed reasons, as was his twin brother Kejuan who started.

The void up front was in the absence of Omarr Norman-Lott who injured himself in the first practice of last week’s game and was also unavailable.

Sep 24, 2022;  Tempe, Arizona, USA;  ASU running back Xazavian Valladay (1) attempts to stiffen Utah defender Sione Vaki (28) at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday.  Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic

4. Daniyel Ngata needs more touches

Last year the speedster played behind Rachaad White and Chip Trayanum and it looked like he was destined for a bigger role this season with the departure of those two players. But the Sun Devils recovered a top from Xazavian Valladay’s portal.

Ngata does good things when he gets the chance. He only got one carry out of the backfield, but ASU was in passing situations as he trailed the entire game and was in long distance situations.

DJ Taylor served as ASU’s comeback specialist, but he got injured on his first attempt, which was just a good catch. Ngata had three kickoff returns for a total of 108 yards, the longest being 58 yards.

5. Sun Devils Must Focus On Improvement

This team needs a lot of work and it’s not necessarily going to show up right away. It doesn’t help that the Sun Devils are playing their first three games against nationally ranked opponents, which makes the situation even more frustrating.

Everyone wants to win right away, but that’s probably not in the cards. There is no quick fix. The players said after the game that they were still united and there was no pointing fingers, only the desire to improve. This will be a big key to moving forward.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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