Arizona State’s game versus Wisconsin last Saturday was summed up by one perfectly gut-wrenching play-by-play call by ASU’s radio broadcast team, Tim Healey and former Sun Devil great Jeff Van Raaphorst. As Thomas Weber lined up for the Sun Devils’ game-tying extra point following Cameron Marshall’s TD run, Healey began to set up the kick, and out of nowhere, “Rapper” interrupts Healey with a sound that only could be interpreted as a full-blown punch in the gut.
If you were lucky enough to hear the Sun Devils’ radio broadcast, that single call on a normally routine play in football described the feeling ASU had walking out of Camp Randall Stadium
ASU nearly went on the road to Madison, WI, and won. The Sun Devils had a lot on the line, and to be honest, most fans did not expect the maroon and gold to be that close that late in the game. If Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils beat Wisconsin, the national media would have taken note. The confidence would be sky-high heading into the Oregon game this weekend at home and maybe even some fans in the valley might jump on the bandwagon.
However, that was not the case, as Wisconsin blocked ASU’s extra point. That shot to the gut that the ASU players, coaches, fans, students, and the Sun Devil radio broadcast described perfectly to listeners, simply hurt.
The question moving forward for Erickson’s team is eerily similar to past seasons: How will Arizona State respond following a close loss?
In the past two seasons, that question has been answered with extended losing streaks. In 2008, the Sun Devils were ranked 15th in the country and played a warm-up game against UNLV before their showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs a week later.
No one, and I mean no one, expected the UNLV Rebels to beat ASU at home. If you remember, Thomas Weber’s potential game-tying field goal in overtime was blocked. Does that sound familiar Sun Devil fans?
Nonetheless, Erickson’s 2008 squad rolled off five consecutive losses following the UNLV debacle. The only reason the losing streak ended was because the Sun Devils played a winless Washington Huskies team followed by a one-win Washington State squad.
The season seemed to be slipping away, but faith was still there. ASU’s defense made their statement game that put this defensive unit on the national map. A four-defensive touchdown performance against UCLA the following week kept slim hopes alive of making a potential fifth-straight bowl game.
Fast-forward to the 2010 season, and the Sun Devils still have not made another bowl appearance.
In 2009, everyone remembers the trip down to Athens, GA, another game that most ASU fans thought Erickson’s team had no shot to win. As the game played out, those same fans were on the edge of their seats trying to will the maroon and gold to a big upset victory.
The result was a game-winning field goal by Georgia as time expired to sink the Sun Devils in heavy rain-soaked conditions.
With ASU’s record at 2-1 following the Bulldogs win, Erickson and the Sun Devils only managed victories over the cellar dwellers from the state of Washington. A 4-8 record, with wins over Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe included, the optimism was sky-high following near misses in big-time showcase games.
In all instances, ASU lost. In 2010, that scenario is in play once again.
The Oregon Ducks are coming to Tempe on Saturday, and this game is far more important in the long run than the Wisconsin game last Saturday. The Badgers were ranked 11th going into the contest, and ASU held their own on the road in a hostile environment.
Oregon is an elite conference opponent, and the performance Erickson’s men put on display Saturday will pave the way for the remainder of the season.
The Sun Devils will return home where they are undefeated in this young season. Granted, the two victories came against FCS opponents, but once again, all signs point to a team with quality.
Dennis Erickson’s record after the first three games is at 2-1 for the third-straight year. This season, just as the past three years proved, the next four games are critical. Following the Oregon game, the Sun Devils will play at Reser Stadium against the 24th-ranked Oregon State Beavers, and at Husky Stadium against Jake Locker and Washington.
This three-game stretch is important, two wins is an absolute necessity. Obviously, three wins would be nice, but with the Ducks flying into Tempe averaging 63 points a game and scoring over a point a minute, a win at home looks far-fetched. Add that with two tough road settings, and an undefeated three-game stretch looks far from a sure thing.
If you were to look even further down the Sun Devils’ schedule, the next three games seem that much more important.
Obviously, the Sun Devils would be feeling a lot better about the rest of the season if the final result were different against Wisconsin. However, the game is what it is.
A win that got away leaves ASU in a very familiar fork in the road. Past experiences have led to dismal final records and Sun Devil fans sure hope that a fourth-straight long losing streak is not in the future.
The only way to prove doubters wrong is to display a different result when the game is finished. Proving that ASU is the real deal might be easier said than done, especially with the high-flying Ducks up next.
Another gut-wrenching defeat on Saturday could spell “doom” for ASU and Dennis Erickson in 2010.
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