Devils disappointed in finale falter

The Sun Devils entered the season finale hoping to get back to their winning ways in front of the home crowd but instead found themselves plagued by familiar faults as they fell to the Cal Golden Bears, 47-38 at Sun Devil Stadium Friday night. As uncertainty continues to swirl around the program, players reflected on their missed opportunities while also looking ahead to a potential bowl game.

"It hurts a lot just because we as a team worked so hard this offseason," said quarterback Brock Osweiler after the game. "I mean there was a group of guys who didn't even go home for Christmas. They stayed here to make sure that this stuff never happened again to this program and to have that happen hurts. I don't know why it happened, but I'm a firm believer that everything in this life happens for a reason. We might not know right now, but one day we will."

The Sun Devils started the day with an outside chance of still being able to reach the Pac-12's inaugural conference championship game as the South division champion, but saw those hopes dissolve as before they could reach the stadium as Colorado shocked Utah in Salt Lake City earlier in the day. Despite that though, Osweiler insists the team's focus remained intact as they still had plenty to play for, especially on Senior Night.

"To be 100% honest, it wasn't a letdown at all," he said. "We still had a lot to play for. We were playing for our senior class, who I just love so much and they've done so much for this program. We were playing for them, we were playing for bowl positioning, so to be honest, Colorado beating Utah it wasn't a letdown. We still had a football game to play and just didn't win."

For the game, Osweiler completed 21-37 passes for 264 yards. While he tossed three touchdowns, he was also responsible for two interceptions, one of which came late when the Sun Devils were hoping to mount a comeback. The loss, the fourth consecutive for the Devils to finish out a regular season that began with so much promise, will only help motivate the quarterback as he shifts his focus now, he says.

"Obviously it's motivation," said a reliant Osweiler. "Nobody likes losing so that's all the motivation to get things turned around. I can promise Sun Devil fans on behalf of this football team that I'm going to do everything within my power and I know the rest of the guys right beside me and down in that locker room too - are going to do the same thing. This bowl month and going into the offseason, we'll get things right."

One of the key points of focus over the past few weeks and heading into the next couple weeks will be the job status of head coach Dennis Erickson. As the losses mounted down the stretch speculation arose as to whether or not the coach would be retained for the final year of his contract. Even though the topic grew loud amongst the fans, Osweiler says it never affected the team as they prepared for their final few games.

"You can't worry about things you can't control and coach's future is out of our hands, as players," Osweiler remarked. "Obviously we can win football games and that helps, but as far the decision, that's out of our hands. We all stand behind Coach Erickson and we'll fight until the end for that guy because he'll do the same for us, but it's a sad way to end it. But we'll stand behind him and fight for him until the day we die."

While the disappointment over what could have been still lingers, the team will now look forward to finals week and hopefully still a bowl game. While they won't know if they've been selected for a bowl until after the conference championship games next weekend, Osweiler insists the team is looking forward to a break in action before focusing on the next task.

"This month was intense. I think having a few weeks off and some light practices and some nice and easy workouts to get our bodies healthy will be good for our football team," he commented. "We'll have some fun this month and do our best to go out in the bowl game and play Arizona State football."

"We still have a lot to be happy about," he continued. "Obviously we didn't win the South like we set out to do, but we're going to a bowl game. Shoot, I haven't done that since I've been here, so I'm pumped about that! So it's not going to be hard to get up for the game. Like I said, we've essentially got like 2-3 weeks off, we're going to re-group, we're going to get healthy, we're going to get re-freshed and I think the bowl game will be a lot of fun and we should come out and we should play hard."

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One of the themes during the team's struggles over the last month has been the declining play the defense. A unit that statistically played as one of the nation's best during the first half of the season looked anything like it during the second of the season.

"I thought a lot about it and it seems every week it was something different," said Colin Parker after the game about the defense's struggles down the stretch. "I think it just comes back to being disciplined. We had people out of place missing tackles and just not making plays when they needed to and that's what it comes down to in the end."

Parker, a senior playing in his last game at Sun Devil Stadium, did his part by registering 7 tackles, five of which were solo. Still it wasn't enough as the Sun Devil defense was torched repeatedly for long scoring drives as the struggled to come up with answers for the Cal offensive attack.

"The momentum thing I guess you could say is partly that," he added. "It comes down to us as player though, and we didn't make the plays throughout the last four weeks that we were making early on in the season and it cost us games."

One of the criticisms of the Sun Devil defense has been a lack of leadership on the defensive side of the ball this season. Without the services of 2010 all-conference performer Omar Bolden and linebacker Brandon Magee, the team has looked lost at times when faced with adversity, looking for someone to take the reins and lead the team.

"When you lose guys who are potential first team all-conference it's going to impact you," he said. "We've had a lot of injuries this year but it's not an excuse. We still had enough talent to win most of our games this year and it just didn't work out."

Admittedly disappointed over not finishing the season the way he had hoped, Parker confessed after the game that he'll always think fondly of his years in maroon & gold while holding out hope that he and the team will have one more chance to end the 2011 season the correct way, hopefully with a bowl win.

"We came out and played our hearts out. It didn't work out in the end. It was weird. I was hyped at some times. I was sad at other points. It's an emotional rollercoaster out there when I've been a Sun Devil my whole life. I wish we got the win, but I wouldn't trade my experiences or my teammates for anything."

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Even in a losing effort, junior running back Cameron Marshall continued his astonishing campaign by gaining 159 yards on 23 carries Friday night. Marshall was also able to find the end zone twice against, giving him 18 rushing touchdowns for the season, which ties the ASU school record for rushing touchdowns in a season, held by Woody Green and Terry Battle.

"I guess that's cool," said a dejected Marshall after the game. "It's individual stuff and it's real bittersweet, more bitter than it is sweet. We wanted to win, to be real. That's what we've been working hard for and putting in the effort for, so I mean, it's nice but it would have been nice to get a win."


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