If last week's loss to Washington State was a punch to the gut, this week's home defeat at the hands of bitter rival Arizona was getting your heart ripped from your chest, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom style.
This was a game that Arizona State—riding a two-game losing streak—had to win, not just for bragging rights over their hated rivals and to hold onto the Territorial Cup for another year, but also for their waning Pac-12 title hopes.
Yet once again, the Sun Devils let an inferior team hang around far too long, and it cost them dearly. The Wildcats managed a late touchdown and held off a last ditch Sun Devil drive to hold onto the 31-27 win.
Much like last week, the positional grades for the game will reflect a season gone terribly awry .
After a mostly terrific start to the 2011 season, Brock Osweiler has regressed over the last two weeks.
Osweiler shattered his previous career highs with 487 yards on 65 attempts, yet his accuracy and decision making were way off throughout the night. He routinely floated passes, threw behind receivers and tried to force the ball into heavy coverage.
This resulted in two interceptions, including a very costly pick late in the fourth quarter, and many other near interceptions that were thankfully dropped. He posted a season worst 55.4 completion percentage.
2011 has been a season of tremendous strides for the junior quarterback, but Saturday night was one to forget.
This grade is impacted somewhat on offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's nearly complete abandonment of the run game, but even in their limited time, the running backs did little.
Cameron Marshall scored a pair of touchdowns, his eighth straight game with a rushing score, but for the second game in a row, he averaged less that three yards per carry. For the night, he totaled only 44 yards on 16 carries. He didn't show his usual agility, vision or burst, which suggests that his lingering ankle issues are playing a large factor.
Kyle Middlebrooks gained 18 yards on his two carries, his best work in weeks.
Overall, the running game continues to be phased out, which in turn makes it less effective when it is used. This in turn places greater pressure on Osweiler, something his recent performances suggest he may not be ready for.
We mentioned his progress in last week's report card, but now it can be said—Gerell Robinson is an elite receiver.
The senior topped 100-yards for the third straight week—and fifth time over the last six games—and did so in dominating style. He set career highs—again—in both receptions (11) and yards (199), with the yardage total being the most of any player in the 112 year history of this rivalry.
Once again, Jamal Miles dominated the short passes, hauling in nine for 54 yards, but the Wildcats did good work in preventing him from breaking them for additional yardage.
Rashad Ross and Aaron Pflugrad each stretched the field with 77 yards each, but Mike Willie and Kevin Ozier had costly drops, with Ozier dropping a touchdown.
But the night belonged to Robinson, and it's a shame that such a heroic effort (forward fumble attempt excluded) went for naught.
This has become an all too familiar story with the offensive line. Solid pass protection undercut by very poor run blocking.
First the good.
The pocket for Osweiler was sound throughout the evening, as he had plenty of time to go through his progressions and reads. He was only sacked once, and considering he had 65 pass attempts, speaks volumes to the effectiveness of the line.
However, as good as the pass protection was, the run blocking was just as bad. The lanes were not consistently there for the running backs, the push off the ball was spotty and they were generally manhandled at the point of attack.
It's sad that for a unit that returned its eight most experienced players from last year that their play has been so maddeningly inconsistent.
Much like their linemates on offense, the defensive linemen for ASU had a night to forget.
Arizona, one of the worst running offenses in the nation, was able to effectively run against ASU. Ka'Deem Carey ran for 92 yards, including a 33-yard run, and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. It wasn't how many yards they totaled, but their effectiveness that was key.
With a struggling secondary, it was paramount for the defensive line to generate pressure on Arizona's Nick Foles.
He was taken down only once and was able to carve up the Sun Devil secondary, throwing for 370 yards and two touchdowns.
Carl Bradford, a converted linebacker, managed the sack and had two tackles for loss.
Another game, another disappointing effort from what was supposed to be the strength of the defense.
Vontaze Burfict had yet another pedestrian game, making seven tackles but failed to make a single big play.
The other starters were equally disappointing in their production. Colin Parker and Shelly Lyons made just two tackles each.
The group was atrocious in their tackling, as Wildcat players routinely juked them out of their shoes and bounced off half-hearted shoulder tackle attempts. It was an absolute clinic in how not to tackle.
Parker, Lyons and Oliver Aaron were also consistently beaten around the edges, allowing for huge gains by Wildcat players.
How many different ways can it be written that a group has failed at its job miserably?
Yet again, the Sun Devil defensive backs were abused and embarrassed. They surrendered 393 total yards through the air and three touchdowns, and did not make an interception of Nick Foles who had tossed 13 picks over his last six games.
For all of the coverage breakdowns by cornerbacks Deveron Carr, Osahon Irabor, Alden Darby and company—and there were a lot—it was the tackling that was the difference.
Simply put, it was more embarrassing than the "U of A" chants echoing throughout Sun Devil Stadium. Instead of wrapping up, the secondary—including the corners and safeties Keelan Johnson, Clint Floyd and Eddie Elder—routinely threw shoulders at Wildcats and watched as they bounced off for more yards, or in two cases, touchdowns, including the eventual game winner.
It was the lowest point in a season full of them.
With units all along the team regressing, the special teams actually had a strong game against Arizona.
Kicker Alex Garoutte, whose misses have been exceedingly costly over the last two weeks, connected on both of his attempts. Even though they were chip shots—22 and 27-yards—he made them nonetheless. With Garoutte, you take every positive you can get.
The punting of Josh Hubner was outstanding. He blasted his kicks with distance, but more importantly, with great hang time, and the Wildcats were unable to return any of his three punts.
The return game was solid, with Jamal Miles and Kyle Middlebrooks averaging 27.4-yards on their five kickoff returns. The biggest play of the night was Miles' 44-yard punt return.
Likewise, the coverage teams were sensational, limiting Arizona to just 15.6-yards on their three returns.
"I think we got to a point where we thought we arrived. We lost hunger."
When one of your senior players is saying that, you deserve the fictional "F-".
The quote was said by defensive tackle Bo Moos after the loss, and that simply sums up the coaching job by Dennis Erickson and his staff.
Having a team come out flat and without the hunger that helped them start 5-1 is a direct indictment of the coaching. A listless effort against your most hated rival with your season and a possible Pac-12 South division title on the line is inexcusable.
Saturday night, Erickson and staff sealed their fate. There will be a new coach for the Sun Devils next season.
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