The great Bill Parcells once said, “There is winning and then there is misery.” For the Arizona State Sun Devils, the latter has been far more prevalent than the former.
Winning in Tempe, AZ, has been less frequent than rain in the sun-drenched valley. Especially when you add in the fact that the Sun Devils seem to reinvent ways to lose games.
Don’t get me wrong in this judgment. The Sun Devils seem to knock on the door, force their way through, only to find the house empty.
That is the feeling that maroon and gold fans have endured for…oh, three years.
The difference lately has been competitive results. No, moral victories or ties are not what I am presenting, but competitive balance against each team.
Of course, that is withholding the 50-17 debacle at the hands of the Cal Golden Bears in Strawberry Canyon three weeks ago.
Flash back to Saturday night at the Coliseum. How many of you realistically gave the Sun Devils a shot at knocking off the USC Trojans?
That’s right, not many.
On the playing surface, from the first play from scrimmage ASU played to “take” the game and the victory.
Think back just two years ago when the Sun Devils last played at the Coliseum. Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans shutout the Sun Devils 28-0 in 2008.
Saturday night against Lane Kiffin’s cardinal and gold, the game had a far different story.
The reaction during and after the game was: “USC escaped with a victory.”
I was there in the crowd Saturday night. I was 82 rows up, surrounded by USC fans and none of them seemed confident for one second.
Well, that was until USC blocked an extra point, and returned it the length of the field for a tremendously crucial two points.
The banter started up. “That play is going to change the outcome of the game.”
When Arizona State is playing, of course a special teams miscue or mistake is going to change the game.
Why? Well, because it always does.
A simple “lack of accountability” by the left guard, who shall remain nameless unless you have TiVo, cost the maroon and gold. From what could have been a 34-29 lead with under seven minutes left, turned into a 33-31 West Coast shootout.
That one single point not only shifted momentum, but also would have forced the Trojans’ hand on the ensuing drive.
USC’s drive ended with a field goal when the Sun Devils popped the tires on the Trojans in the red zone.
A field goal would not have been an option. Matt Barkley would have been forced to make a play in a high-pressure situation.
Even with all the national and local media hype he gets because he is Southern California’s “golden boy” doesn’t mean Barkley makes the tough throw.
In fact, the entire night Barkley struggled in pressure situations.
And in the final stanza, the ASU defense was in charge. On USC’s three possessions in the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils relinquished only 81 yards and a field goal.
However, the 29-yard field goal that USC’s Joe Houston made was enough to earn the victory.
The misery on ASU’s sideline did not become reality until moments later.
With three minutes remaining, the Sun Devils still had fight.
A one-point lead was not a huge mountain to climb, especially after overcoming a 15-point deficit twice in the contest already.
But that one point proved to be the most elusive.
One swift kick of the boot would have done the trick, but as Fox Sports broadcaster Barry Tompkins said in regards to Thomas Weber’s miss, “He never had a chance.”
Too much had already gone wrong in the special teams game, and that clearly rattled the former All-American. The pressure was on and the Trojans’ marching band belted out “Fight On” until that was the only thing between Weber’s ears.
The kick went left and the team dropped. A fifth win was one play away from reality, but that was not the case.
Players were in shock afterwards, only to witness their season falling through their grasp.
This is a similar script with a different resolution: a new way to lose a close game.
With Stanford coming to town in four days, a Herculean task awaits them. The Sun Devils’ backs were already against the wall, but now with ASU trapped, the oxygen is now being cut off.
If you can’t breathe, you can’t survive. Right now, ASU is just trying to breathe and end the misery.
Another close game might be on the horizon against the Stanford Cardinal. A loss would close the book on this tale of misery.
Then again, there is winning.