Opinion: Herm Edwards is right — Arizona State's lack of discipline begins with him

·5 min read

PROVO, Utah —The setting was different. It was a small room in the northwest corner of LaVell Edwards Stadium, the outer wall made of cinder block and a sponsor's backdrop banner draped over a television on the wall behind Herm Edwards.

But the comments from Arizona State's football coach Saturday night were nearly the same as ones he made in the north end of Sun Devil Stadium after his team's previous two games this season.

We make too many mistakes. We lack discipline. We aren't going to beat good teams until we fix it.

That latter part, the Sun Devils proved to be true in losing to BYU 27-17. Sixteen penalties for 121 yards. Four turnovers. A handful of mistimed or busted plays. Breakdowns on defense.

"The discipline of our team is not very good," Edwards said. "It starts with me. I've got to fix it. It's my responsibility."

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Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against BYU on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against BYU on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

He is correct on all counts. The Sun Devils are talented, more so than BYU, which is 3-0 after victories over three Pac-12 schools. But BYU committed one turnover and was penalized just three times.

The Cougars are a well-coached team. ASU is not right now, and if that doesn't change soon, we're going to hear a lot more post-game press conferences like the last three.

The Sun Devils have too much talent and experience to be playing like this. They entered the season with 10 returning starters on defense. They have a veteran offensive line, an experienced quarterback and NFL-caliber running backs.

Yet, the more they play, the sloppier they seem to get.

"You can't play football that way," Edwards said. "It's embarrassing. It's not a good look."

Reasons for that "look" elude the Sun Devils. It's convenient to blame the ongoing NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations, and no doubt a dark cloud hovers over the program.

But is that causing players to grab face masks and commit false starts?

Three coaches are on paid leave, but they were the least experienced coaches on the staff, known as great recruiters but unproven as teachers.

Edwards said discipline is emphasized in practice and will continue to be.

Asked how to fix the lack of discipline, defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce answered with one word.

"Consequences," he said.

If players don't have discipline "they just won't play," Pierce said.

In the first half, Arizona State excavated a large hole and jumped in. They trailed 21-7 at halftime thanks to six penalties, three turnovers, a handful of busted plays and a bunch of other stuff that good teams don't do.

While the Sun Devils didn't play smart, they played hard. And in the second half, they played much better.

If they can ever clean up the mental errors — and that will take a lot of cleanser, Magic Erasers, buckets and mops — the Sun Devils might develop into a decent team.

Now would be an opportune time for that to happen since Pac-12 play begins next Saturday against Colorado.

Coaches need to provide more help with better preparation or quicker adjustments.

For instance, in the fourth quarter, ASU took possession at its 5-yard line, with BYU students at its backs. It trailed, 21-17, with 11:34 left.

But the Sun Devils let the crowd noise get to them. They committed four false starts and ended up punting from their 14-yard line.

"They got to us, rattled us a bit," coordinator Zak Hill said. "We've got to figure out a better way to operate."

The Sun Devils ended up changing to a different type of silent count, but why were they so ill-prepared to handle it in the first place, especially with an experienced quarterback and offensive line?

What Edwards and his staff have going for them is this team played hard throughout Saturday's game.

ASU shut BYU down on its first two possessions of the third quarter, and the offense scored 10 points on its first two possessions to close to within four points.

Then the defense finally came up with a turnover when linebacker Merlin Robertson intercepted a pass and began sprinting down the ASU sideline.

He returned it 60 yards and was on his way to perhaps setting up the go-ahead score. But Robertson was stripped of the ball by running back Tyler Allgeier at the BYU 15, and quarterback Jaren Hall recovered.

Replays and still photos later showed Robertson appearing to step out of bounds before the fumble, but no one on ASU's sideline or in the booth knew it in time for Edwards to ask for a review.

It was a wild sequence that could have flipped the game in ASU’s favor. Instead, the Sun Devils still trailed 21-17 as the fourth quarter started.

It was an important moment, but as Edwards notes, there were many others in the game.

In the end, ASU's issues in the first half were too much to overcome.

Somehow, the Sun Devils were 3-½ point favorites over the Cougars. ASU was ranked 19th in the AP poll and 21st by USA Today but will be fortunate not to fall out of both polls.

It was the first serious test for the Sun Devils, who were supposed to contend for a Pac-12 title. They failed it, not because they were less talented than their opponent, but because they were less disciplined and not coached as well.

If that doesn't change, the only thing that might be left for the Sun Devils to brag about is they aren't as bad as their rival down South.

Reach Kent Somers at Kent.Somers@gannett.com. Follow him on twitter @kentsomers.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona State's discipline issues begin and end with Herm Edwards

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