The Arizona State Sun Devils are still a team that manages to lose football games. Chip Kelly said it best following Oregon’s 42-31 win, “we are lucky to get out of here alive.”
Dennis Erickson doesn’t feel the same way. “It’s frustrating because we know we have a pretty good team,” Erickson said.
Sitting in the stands at a nearly sold out Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night, many were expecting a potential upset, but were not too confident in that prediction. Then again, who would be confident when your team is playing the best offensive and defensive units in the country?
The Ducks looked scary, not their mascot or appealing cheerleaders, but the players on the field.
However, Arizona State did not play with their tails between their legs. The Sun Devils set out to impose their will on the Oregon Ducks, and for the better part of the four hour marathon, Erickson’s young team was successful.
But at the end of the contest, ASU was only successful at pointing out the countless mistakes and miscues that led to a second straight loss to a perennial top ten opponent.
So, ASU can play with top teams, but even at home, cannot beat top teams. Unfortunately, the players on the ASU roster are either too young to have big game college experience, or have been around the Sun Devil program and have experienced two straight losing seasons. Not exactly an ironclad formula for a conference championship team.
The Sun Devils are inexperienced with only one senior starter. Seven turnovers, and a quarterback that attempted to take over the final stanza, sunk the ship next to Tempe Town Lake.
However, young players have time to learn from their mistakes.
Running backs Cameron Marshall and Deantre Lewis have bright futures in maroon and gold, that much is evident, but their turnovers led to the headline stories.
In a game where ASU once again felt like a win was in their grasps, fumbles, interceptions, and penalties hindered any chance for success.
The game was not won because Oregon dominated the Sun Devils, the Ducks punted 11 times, as ASU put up 600 yards of offense. The young Sun Devils at one point were ahead by 10 points.
No one in the ASU locker room has had success against top-tier competition. Since Erickson arrived in Tempe in 2007 with a 26-15 record against top 25 teams, the Sun Devils have won only one game against a top 25 team in four years.
The 21st-ranked California Golden Bears were victim to ASU’s eighth straight victory in 2007. In the end Cal finished the ’07 season with a 7-6 record, but following ASU’s win against the Bears, fans in attendance stormed Frank Kush Field in jubilation and complete euphoria.
That feeling is what Erickson and the ASU faithful was hoping for Saturday night against the fifth-ranked Oregon Ducks.
Most football programs evaluate their head coaches three to four years after the hiring process, sometimes even earlier. Erickson sparked interest in the Phoenix Metro area in 2007 with a 10-3 record and a co-conference championship.
Since then, ASU has won eleven games in just over two seasons. But the Sun Devils are close. A blocked extra point and as funny as this sounds, a seven-turnover meltdown is the difference between ASU being 4-0 and possibly ranked in the top 15, and their actual record of 2-2.
Not to mention, ASU is ranked dead last in the country in penalties. Then again, that is a Dennis Erickson staple at every stop in his coaching career. The penalties will most likely never be completely eliminated, because the game of football is a violent and physical game. Erickson's defenses have always played that style. However, to continually be in the 100’s in penalty ranking is absurd.
A young team will make mistakes and lose games that they feel should have been won. This ASU team is displaying that first hand in 2010.
There is no doubt that the Sun Devils are entertaining, and have the capability of competing with the best in the country. Erickson has recruited speed and pure athletes, and thus far that has been the difference between 2009 and this year.
However, the miscues by true freshmen and sophomores have kept ASU and Dennis Erickson from elevating to the elite level.
It is even more difficult to swallow the taste of another bitter defeat when arch rivals to the south, the Arizona Wildcats, have been winning those close games during ASU's struggles, and the Wildcats are now ranked 14th in the country.
In Tucson, AZ, the Wildcats were unsure about Mike Stoops’ future just two years ago, but the Wildcats always seemed to have one marquee victory to build on.
ASU has not won that statement game as of yet. The opportunities to win those games have been there and the last two weeks are prime examples.
“Eventually we got to find a way to win a big game. That’s the bottom line. Once you start winning games, it becomes contagious.”
Right now, the Sun Devils are not exactly surrounded in a winning environment coming off back-to-back losing season. But as a fan, you can see a change in attitude. The Sun Devils have played like a championship team at points, and then like a 4-8 team in other situations.
Dennis Erickson knows that winning solves all problems, and for a young team, a big win would be the stepping-stone for a strong finish in 2010 and a promising future to come.
The Sun Devils are not far from the top.
With the familiar stomping grounds of Reser Stadium on the horizon, Erickson and his Sun Devils will eye a season-changing victory in Corvallis, OR. The game this Saturday is almost a must win game.
Arizona State will be on the road for nearly a month, and a loss to start it off against the Beavers would result in a three game losing streak, and the potential for a five game slide.
It is the time in the season when the freshmen become sophomores and the sophomores become juniors. The "freshmen mistakes" that have plagued ASU have to be corrected.
When they do, this team is going to make some noise.