Different Devils? Results saying otherwise
NOV 04, 2012 1:39a ET
You can talk all you want about a new attitude around the Arizona State football program. You can talk all you want about discipline, accountability, character and energetic community outreach. But if the Sun Devils complete a third straight six-win season, none of that chatter will matter to the most important people in this program: the fans.
College football is about wins and money, precious revenue the athletic department needs to make so many other things happen, like that dreamy Sun Devil Stadium renovation. When ASU finally returns to Tempe on Nov. 17 against Washington State, we’re betting the house there will be lost revenue visible everywhere you look in the stands -- in the form of empty seats.
That’s what happens when you lose three straight games -- maybe four if the Devils can’t right the ship against the nation’s biggest disappointment, USC, next weekend in Los Angeles.
“I’ve got great confidence in our guys,” quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “They’ve got great character when stuff hits the fan. This is the time when we’re going to pull together better than ever.”
For one quarter Saturday at Reser Stadium, ASU teased us with the thought that maybe that had already happened. Defensive tackle Will Sutton was back in the lineup and again made an impact on the opponent’s first drive, just as he did against Oregon before leaving with a bone bruise to his knee.
With Oregon State facing a third-and-10 from its own 16-yard line, Sutton squirted through a gap and literally scared the ball right out of quarterback Cody Vaz’s hands. Vaz fumbled, and Junior Onyeali jumped on it to give the Devils a quick 7-0 lead.
ASU (5-4) built that lead to 14-3 and 16-10 in the first quarter, but then Kelly became a redshirt sophomore again, the offensive line channeled its inner Arizona Cardinals and the offense went dormant, producing just three more points until the closing minutes as the Beavers (7-1) rolled to a relatively comfortable 36-26 win that kept their Pac-12 title hopes alive.
“All too familiar,” said running back Cameron Marshall, who endured a five-game slide to close the 2011 season. “We’ve experienced this before.”
It is clear that the Sun Devils’ first-half schedule played a major role in their 5-1 start. It is also clear that the signature win the program believed it posted at Cal wasn’t such a big deal after all with the Bears sitting at 3-7 and Jeff Tedford headed for the unemployment line. Great programs find ways to win tough road games. ASU has not achieved that yet.
Insiders will swear there is tangible progress being made under Graham, and there is ample evidence to back that claim. ASU is no longer among the national leaders in penalties because there are consequences to knuckleheaded actions.
With the first half winding down, Onyeali cost the Devils a chance to get off the field and maintain a first half-lead by taking an unnecessary roughing-the-passer penalty. Oregon State cashed in with a field goal to tie the score at 19-19. The result? Onyeali was benched for much of the second half.
“Anybody that’s around our program that doesn’t think that things are different has got something wrong with him,” Graham said.
The problem is, fans don’t care about that stuff if a team isn’t winning. Nobody comes to Sun Devil Stadium because ASU is so admirably disciplined. Nobody comes because the Devils are improving in the class room. And nobody outside this program will be talking about progress if ASU ends up playing in a little-noticed bowl game in New Mexico or Las Vegas.
Progress is in the eye of the beholder, and the ASU community defines it far differently from the ASU football program.
“We’ve still got three games left in the season,” Graham said. “When we’re done with those three games, then we can evaluate and say, 'Well, the same ol' thing happened again.'"
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