"It's really hard," coach Dennis Erickson said of the loss. "In all the years that I've been in this business I don't think I've ever had a slide like this, particularly on defense, where we were playing really well. I can think for years and years and probably have time to do that about what exactly happened and maybe you can relate it to the UCLA game where we end up losing it at the end, I don't know.
"We haven't been playing with confidence defensively the last month and I wish I could put my finger on it because I've never really experienced anything like it."
With Utah's loss to Colorado earlier in the day the Sun Devils knew their shot at the conference title game was gone, still, there was a lot to play for. While the chances were slim for coach Erickson to return with a strong showing in the home finale maybe, just maybe there was a chance for him to stay.
Then there were the seniors, playing their final game at Sun Devil Stadium. Factor in Cameron Marshall going for the single season touchdown record and this game still had some meaning.
"We put ourselves in that situation and I've been in that situation before where you're depending on somebody else to give you a chance to do something and normally this is about how it works," Erickson said of knowing his team had no chance to play in the title game. "When you wait for somebody to do the job that you should've done three weeks ago, or two weeks ago, or a week ago and you're waiting for Utah to beat Colorado and it didn't happen.
"So it may have had some effect, but I don't know how much. The Pac-12, especially the south is a weird division to say the least. You wouldn't think that Colorado could go and beat Utah there, but that ‘s football and that's part of it."
After not establishing the run last week versus the Wildcats, the Sun Devil offense got a heavy dose of Marshall early on. Marshall had 11 carries in the first period and scored on the team's opening drive to pull within one of the record.
Marshall would end up tying the record by night's end after his second touchdown to go along with his 157 rushing yards and surpassing 2,000 rushing yards for his ASU career.
"He's had a great season," said Erickson of Marshall. "I don't even know what his stats were today and I didn't know he broke the record. We got the football to him finally. We didn't do it last week, but we did some things to get him the ball. He made some great plays and he deserves that record. He's got another year left so I look for him to be a leader on this football team next year."
Once again, the defense proved to be the Achilles heel for ASU, surrendering 484 yards and giving Cal its highest scoring out put since last season's loss when the Golden Bears dropped 50 on the Sun Devils. What was once a strength for this team has seemingly become its greatest weakness.
"That's been the strength of our program since I've been here and we played pretty good at the beginning of the year, then to see us take a dive like that I'm not sure why it happened," Erickson said of the defensive collapse. "That's the last thing I thought would happen. That's something we're going to have to evaluate and see because I didn't see it coming by any means.
"We had some good leaders. Colin was a good player and a good leader, Ollie (Oliver Aaron) I think sometimes. When you lose a couple guys like we did with Omar and Brandon Magee, as time went on it probably affected us. Colin is a great leader, but he isn't an outgoing boisterous type guy like those other two and before Brandon got hurt he kind of took on that aspect of it, and when we lost him obviously it hurt us.
After committing two personal fouls on one scoring drive for Cal late in the game, and overall seeming to mail the game in from the start, Vontaze Burfict was replaced by Colin Parker for the final two offensive drives for Cal. Being taken out is one thing, but Burfict was no where to be found even when the rest of his defensive teammates huddled near the sideline for timeouts. When asked about why he sat, Erickson was very brief in his response.
"He had a couple late hits and we decided to let those other guys play," Erickson said of his highly touted linebacker.
Maybe he's content with his draft stock, or maybe this just reflects the lack of discipline and control the coaching staff has on it's players, but after a sub par year and this showing in what could be the final game the season, it wouldn't surprise me if many people in Sun Devil nation are hoping he leaves for the NFL.
A team's best player should always be a leader, especially someone as emotionally charged as Burfict is. The fact that he never stepped up in these final four games doesn't necessarily come as surprise, but it's disappointing nonetheless.
Erickson said he praised the seniors after the game and talked more about school than the game. This doesn't come as a surprise as Erickson has always genuinely cared about his players, but now he must face his future and the possibility of not coming back next season. Heck, he may not even be there for the bowl game should there be one.
"I will meet with Lisa next week and her and I will sit down and talk about where the program's at," Erickson said of his future. "The direction that she and I and whoever else is involved in what's going on and see what's best for the program. I've been around a long time and I'm going to do whatever I think and she thinks is best for this football program because I've had a great five years here.
"I love it here and I'd like to stay here and finish the job, but her and I will sit down and talk."
As coach loves to say, "irregardless" of what happens with him and his staff, there is no doubt that Lisa Love has a lot of work ahead of her.