‘Disheartening' loss reveals same mistakes

Not much went right in ASU's 31-27 loss to U of A Saturday night, and while one loss should never make or break a season, this one appears as if it will have a lasting impact on these players and head coach Dennis Erickson.

Three weeks ago ASU was 6-2, and in prime position to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference title game. Fast-forward to Saturday night and the Sun Devils have now lost three straight games and need a win versus Cal, and a loss by both UCLA and Utah to get into the title game.

Title game representation aside, this no longer feels like the same team that was coming off a 48-14 drubbing of Colorado and felt like it could take on the world. Each loss seems to have lowered the team's sails even more than the last, and losing the Territorial Cup to the Wild Cats has lowered this team to a level it hasn't seen since last season.

"I think all three losses have been a little different then what's transpired today," coach Erickson said of the losing streak. "Tonight it was turnovers, penalties, you just can't turn it over and have penalties like we did. When you have a ten-point lead you should be able to hold that.

"I think at UCLA it was different. The biggest thing today is we didn't make plays on offense. We were down; I think that's the most common thing. Getting down inside the twenty-yard line and not being able to get touchdowns out of it. In the second half we had opportunities to get that done and didn't. That's probably the biggest thing. We didn't tackle. That was the worst tackling game I've ever seen this team have."

When looking back on this one the tackling by the ASU defense is what I'll remember most. ASU's tackling on the final two touchdowns for U of A was so poor it reminded me of my Pop Warner days. There's no excuse for that kind of play at this level and Erickson and his players know it.

"It's pretty disheartening," Erickson said. "We felt like we had it and then they went down and scored real fast. Everything that happened is disheartening. I don't know any other way to put it. It's probably the worst loss that I've had in a long time.

"I thought we practiced better than we've practiced all year. Sometimes that's a tricky thing. You think you've prepared very well and we didn't come out and play very well early. We got down like we did, 14-0, then fought back. What we tried to accomplish with it, focus and all that obviously didn't work."

And ultimately that is going to be the reason Erickson will be let go after this season. Whether or not the talent is there (and there's no question it's there with this team) there should never be an excuse for lack of focus, and this team shows it in one way or another every week. While no decision (at least publicly) has been made about Erickson's coaching future at ASU, this loss appears as if it will close the book on his time in Tempe, at least as a coach.

"We've got one game left against Cal on Friday, so when we finish the regular season, Lisa and I will sit down after we play that game and then we'll see," Erickson said of his future. "Everything is speculation, I don't think anybody knows, but yeah it's out there, that's just how it is."

One thing can be said of Erickson: he always puts the blame on himself for the team's shortcomings. Unfair as that may be, it's how things work when you're the head football coach at a major university getting paid the money Erickson is. I digress…

Not to be lost in the all the disappointment of the loss is the effort of several players on the team, notably, senior wide receiver Gerell Robinson who had career highs in yards (199), and catches (11) tonight. Robinson eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark on his 11-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, becoming the first Sun Devil to accomplish that feat since Derek Hagan did so in 2005.

"This is a bad locker room down there," Erickson said of his team. "Losing that game is very difficult. We had great efforts by a lot of guys. Gerell Robinson made plays all over the place. You look at what he accomplished today and a lot of those seniors, so it's very disappointing to end their senior year with a loss to Arizona.

"We've got him in a position where we take advantage of what his skills are. He's big and catches the football and gets open and understands that position. He's played extremely well. He's been our best offensive player. If you're going to give an MVP to the offense it would be him."

Now all ASU can do is look forward to Cal and hope things fall in place for them to reach the conference title game, something that won't be easy given the intense emotion involved in this loss.

"We've been together a long time," Erickson said. "It's not like we've got a bunch of new guys. Unfortunately we've been in this position before. All we can do as a group is come in tomorrow, players come back Monday and we play Friday.

"It's hard, but the bottom line is they're athletes and they're going to hurt tonight and they're going to hurt tomorrow when they come back to work on Monday we'll just focus as a coaching staff on Cal and they'll do that as players too."

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