Don’t you think Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson is getting tired of walking to midfield only to receive a handshake and the congratulatory comment, “hell of a team, coach” from his coaching counterpart?
Erickson certainly would not want to answer that question in the post-game press conference, especially after the Sun Devils' 42-31 loss to the Ducks.
Saturday night against No. 5 Oregon was yet another game where the ASU Sun Devils had a lead against an elite opponent, only to head into the locker room to analyze the missed opportunities and mistakes.
In a game where ASU dominated the box score, including the turnover margin (in a bad way), the Sun Devils gave Oregon everything they could handle.
However, once again all the credit has to be given to ASU’s defense. In games against top-tier opponents, the Sun Devils have stood tall and made a statement to be considered the best. Forcing Oregon, the top offensive team in the country, to punt 11 times in a single game is unreal.
Chip Kelly’s offense was forced to punt only four times in three games this season.
Honestly, that is how good Craig Bray’s defense played against the prolific Oregon offense.
The man for ASU that had to step up if Erickson’s Sun Devils were going to have a chance was middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict was everywhere on the field and was the leader of the maroon and gold defense that held Oregon to their season low in rushing (145 yards) Saturday night. Unfortunately, the continual setback that hurt the defense was penalties.
Burfict had two personal fouls called on him just one week after committing zero. It was thought a gradual maturation process might be taking over this squad and in particular No. 7 on defense, but in big games, the emotional level for Burfict is overflowing.
Burfict plays the game with passion, and if he is going to start, play every single down, and be a leader on potentially a top-ranked defense, then the penalties have to go.
Until that point, Sun Devil fans are going to continue to look up at the scoreboard and wonder what could have been.
Then again, the message could be made loud and clear by starting senior Gerald Munns next week. How would Burfict respond to that “tough love?”
The penalties and defensive lapses in this game can be attributed to the youth and inexperience of this Sun Devil team. For that matter, the turnovers on offense can be grouped together under freshman mistakes and lack of confidence in the big game.
When Oregon made its charge to regain control of the game, it was due to penalties and blown assignments. ASU’s defense is filled with playmakers, and sometimes, having too many playmakers is a bad thing.
Yes, it is true. For example, Darron Thomas pump-faked a bubble screen at the line of scrimmage; at that same moment, four Sun Devils in the area went racing towards the short receiver. Meanwhile, Ducks wide receiver Josh Huff was wide open down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown. The closest ASU defender was a good 15 yards away.
In a big game, blown assignments will kill you.
On that play, the youthful athletic defense wanted to swarm and make a big play, as they were doing most of the night, but the defenders were too aggressive, and in that instance that style burned ASU.
But the defense does not deserve to be struck down over a handful of negative plays. The only reason why ASU was still in the game late in the contest was because of the Sun Devils' defense.
Arizona State kept LaMichael James, Oregon’s leading rusher, under 135 yards for the first time this season and managed to keep the Ducks' vaunted rushing attack 235 yards under their season average.
Yes, that is correct: 235 yards less than their season average!
No matter how good the ASU defense was Saturday night, though, it was not enough.
When a team turns the ball over seven times, it is pretty hard to make a positive outcome out of that scenario. Saturday night was nearly that occasion, but the four interceptions and three fumbles were basically “all she wrote.”
Sun Devil quarterback Steven Threet (30-of-53 387 yards 3 TD 4 INT) was a huge reason why ASU was in the football game in the first half and even held a 10-point lead at one point. However, Threet’s second-half meltdown was tough to watch.
The Oregon Ducks held a four-point lead at halftime (28-24), and the buzz in the stadium was all about a potential upset, but there was far too much time left.
Didn’t you have that same feeling just before halftime last week versus Wisconsin?
Truth be told, there was too much time for too much to go wrong for Dennis Erickson and ASU. The 60,326 fans in attendance knew that was true.
As past experiences displayed, ASU made the mistakes and errors at the most ill-advised times. A fumble by Cameron Marshall inside the 10-yard line, a dropped lateral again by Marshall that was returned for a touchdown, and a very unlucky play by Deantre Lewis as he rolled his ankle, fell, and fumbled all in one motion were not examples of good ball security by the Sun Devil running backs.
Granted, a turnover is never good, no matter when it occurs, but when the defensive effort by your teammates has forced six straight Oregon punts late in the third and fourth quarters, a fumble returned for a touchdown will ultimately be the final straw.
Well, better make it seven straws—one for each turnover. The three interceptions by Threet in the fourth quarter just added more salt to the already profusely bleeding wound of each and every Sun Devil.
And how about another missed field goal by Thomas Weber? The 2007 Lou Groza Award winner looks far from award-winning early this season.
Erickson certainly was not pleased either.
A performance where his team had 10 more first downs, gained 182 more yards, and converted seven more third downs against statistically the best offense and defense in the country and still loses has to make Erickson and his staff sick.
For that matter, the entire team is probably a little under the weather today. Not only did another opportunity to make a statement for the ASU program go begging, but the Sun Devils are now in the midst of a two-game losing streak and an 0-1 conference record heading into three straight road games.
Oregon State, Washington, and the Cal Bears are all talented teams. A win on the road against these three will be hard to come by, but ASU has proved it can play with the best.
Playing with the best and beating the best is a totally different outcome. Dennis Erickson and his Sun Devils have grown far too accustomed to “near victories.” At some point ASU (2-2) has to win a big game, and this three-game road trip will be very revealing.
Already on a two-game slide against ranked opponents, ASU will head to Corvallis, OR. The Oregon State Beavers will be sour following a 37-24 loss at Boise State.
The Sun Devils cannot return from this road trip looking for a bounce-back victory over cellar dweller Washington State. A 2-5 record heading into that contest will certainly turn the heat up on Erickson’s seat and spark the radio chatter regarding his job status.
However, there is an easy way to fix that problem: Win a football game.