A Critique of ASU’s Ground Game & How the Sun Devils Can Extend 2019 Season
By Peter Bouloukos,
November 21, 2019 5:19 PM

Few teams get far without a strong passing attack, and of course, Arizona State now has two-young quarterbacks who can spin it. With all the rule changes favoring throwing, it seems like getting down and dirty with the ground game is, well, down and dirty….yet essential. 

Successful teams use their ground game to define the line of scrimmage and to produce more open pass-plays. When a Running Back can block and catch the ball out of the backfield, it presents a number of added challenges for opposing linebackers and defensive ends.

SDSU’s Marshall Faulk

When teams can dictate the pace of a game on the ground, they control the clock and, often, the scoreboard. Arizona State has blown an uncertain trumpet in 2019, and Herm Edwards is now 12-11 as CEO.   


IN 1993 A DYNAMIC RUNNING BACK for San Diego State University, Marshall Faulk, carried the ball 300 times for 1530 yards and 21 touchdowns on 5.1 per rush

Faulk had 47 catches for 644 yards adding 3 more scores. When the year was said and done, then a Junior, Marshall Faulk had 347 touches for 2174 yards and 24 touchdowns

IN 2018 A DYNAMIC RUNNING BACK for Arizona State University, Eno Benjamin, carried the ball 300 times for 1642 yards and 16 touchdowns on 5.5 per rush.

Eno had 35 catches for 263 yards adding 2 more scores. When the year was said and done, then a Sophomore, Eno Benjamin had 335 touches for 1905 yards and 18 touchdowns

Faulk was a First Round selection in the 1994 NFL Draft going no. 2 to the Indianapolis Colts. The Running Back measured 5’10” 206-pounds leaving San Diego State at the end of his Junior campaign. 
Faulk ranks seventh in the NFL with total all-purpose yards gained (19,190). He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.  


Marshall Faulk with the St. Louis Rams


Ask Kurt Warner if the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” would have ever worked without the threat of Marshall Faulk running and catching the ball. The Rams’ Greatest Show put up some of the best all-purpose numbers in NFL history. 

After a prolific Sophomore campaign, Eno Benjamin could have been a Second Round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft (Philadelphia, Los Angeles Rams). Instead, the Running Back who measures 5’10” 205-pounds returned to Arizona State for his Junior year to advance his resume under Herm Edwards.

With a young Jayden Daniels under center, one would think using a more prescribed running game would greatly help their passing attack. However, it seems as if HC Herm Edwards and OC Rob Likens have taken their foot off the gas of the rush.  



Sun Devil RB Eno Benjamin


The threat of the run would help to exploit the playmaking abilities of Daniels, Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Williams, and Frank Darby.  In fact, ASU has eight guys who can run routes and would benefit from a strong running game. 

When defenses place 8 in the box, is Herm suggesting Daniels can’t zip it to his playmakers in space? Is he not allowed to make that read?  

This year, Eno Benjamin has 188 rushing attempts for 801 yards and 8 touchdowns. Additionally he has 34 catches for 279 yards adding another 2 scores. In all EB3 has 222 touches for 1,080 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019.  

Only 34 other FBS Schools are as inept at scoring as the 2019 Arizona State Sun Devils. Likens’ planned attack has not exactly been lighting up stadiums. If Herm Edwards wants to practice with his young team in December, he must win one of the next two games to become bowl eligible. So what is going to change? 

With two games remaining, Rob Likens, Herm Edwards and perhaps a few RPO’s from scrimmage by Jayden Daniels have placed Eno Benjamin 113 touches behind where he was at the end of last season.

Sun Devil F QB Jayden Daniels

The result? We are losing manageable football games and scoring less. We are also leaving Danny Gonzalez’s Defense on the field far too long.  

Jayden Daniels (150.2) is statistically rating more proficiently this year than Manny Wilkens (141.2) was last year. So “youth” is a suspect excuse by Herm Edwards.

The excuse has been the threat of N’Keal Harry opened up the running game for EB3 last year.  But Aiyuk, Williams, and Darby have emerged as a three-headed monster that can play in space.  Manny Wilkins was also a better runner last year than Daniels has been this season.  So if they are truly stacking the box this year, how come the play-calling is not horizontal or quick slants underneath to exploit said space? 

Quarterback Comparison

  1. 185 – 279. 8.1 yards per completion. 19 touchdowns. 83-yard long. 106.9 rating. 19 sacks.
  2. 159 – 259. 8.6 yards per completion. 14 touchdowns. 86-yard long. 150.6 rating. 24 sacks.

Runningback Comparison

  1. 136 – 667 yards.  4.9 yards per carry.  8 touchdowns. 53-yard long. 2 lost fumbles.
  2. 188 – 801 yards.  4.3 yards per carry.  8 touchdowns. 33-yard long. 4 lost fumbles. 


Run to Win

Having a dual-threat Quarterback and a dual-threat Running Back only complicates things for opposing defenses. QB1 above is Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens. QB2 is Jayden Daniels this year.  RB1 above is Mark Ingram II of the Baltimore Ravens. RB2 is Eno Benjamin this year.  

Eno has more catches and more receiving yards than Ingram, Jackson has more rushing attempts and more yards from scrimmage than Daniels.  The Ravens don’t have Brandon Aiyuk on the outside, and the Sun Devils lack the luxury of a Tight End like Mark Andrews whom Jackson counts on as his volume receiver.  But the numbers are similar as is the offensive design.  


Eno Benjamin fights through USC’s front line


The Problem in Tempe

If Daniels was the threat on the ground Manny was, wouldn’t that mean more spies and more football players stacking the box?  Manny Wilkens was a better runner last year averaging 4 yards per carry (112 for 452 yards) and 8 rushing touchdowns. 

Jayden Daniels is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry by running the ball 93 times for 247 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Despite his size, if Daniels is a true running threat, Likens has to better design that option for him. Put him in a better position to succeed. 

The truth is when Eno is relied upon more heavily, Arizona State wins football games. When he is not, Daniels is getting sacked or hurried.

The beneficiary of Rob Likens schemes?  Michael Turk. Our national standout punter is getting plenty of reps, 49 punts so far for 2,276 yards!   

Daniels averages 8.6 yards per completion to Wilkins 7.7. Daniels’ decision making has made his adjusted yards per catch 1.4 yards further than Manny. Folks, Arizona State needs to run the football regardless of who is taking the snap. 

Offensive guru’s frequently utter a common saying… 



ENO BENJAMIN 2018 vs. 2019:

Colorado – Utah – USC – UCLA – Oregon State 

  • CU 2018: 28 carries for 120 & 2 touchdowns. 2 catches for 2 yards. 28-21 LOSS.  
  • CU 2019: 20 carries for 83 yards & 2 touchdowns. 2 catches for 10. 34-31 LOSS.

  • UTAH 2018: 27 carries for 175 & 2 touchdowns. 38-20 WIN.
  • UTAH 2019: 15 carries for 104 yards. 21-3. LOSS 

  • USC 2018: 29 carries for 185 yards & 2 touchdowns. 38-35 WIN.
  • USC 2019: 20 carries for 52 yards. 7 catches 48 yards. 31-26 LOSS.  

  • UCLA 2018: 34 carries for 182 yards & 2 touchdowns.  2 catches 13 yards. 31-28 WIN.
  • UCLA 2019: 13 carries for 46 yards. 3 catches 19 yards. 42-32 LOSS.

  • OSU 2018: 30 carries 312 yards & 3 touchdowns. 3 catches for 27 & 1 touchdown. 52-24 WIN.
  • OSU 2019: 15 carries for 70 yards and 1 touchdown. 5 catches for 27. 35-34 LOSS.


In the pass-happy analytical world of football and RPO dual-threat quarterbacks, it can be easy to forget about the prescribed run. Rob Likens’ and Herm Edwards’ “scheming” in this 5-5 campaign might very well have cost Eno Benjamin rounds in the 2020 NFL Draft. Rounds can equal millions of dollars.  


Eno with the game-winning score at Michigan State


When describing last week’s failure on ASU’s 2-point conversion attempt, Herm Edwards described Benjamin as his best threat. So why not get your best player some more runs to help win big games?  

If Arizona State is going to “play to win the game” against Oregon, they need to employ EB3 to set up a big passing effort for Jayden Daniels. I think Benjamin has a magic number of 24 rushes or more on Saturday. Oregon can be beaten with a Freshman Quarterback and a ground-game. Just ask Auburn.  


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