Embarrassing, Damaging, and Inexcusable

<I>The Sun Devils went into the rivalry game with more talent, more football to be played this season, and more to lose with a loss. Unfortunately, the Wildcats had more focus, desire, and determination</I>.

Embarrassing

This loss is not the most embarrassing Sun Devil loss in recent memory. That award goes to the New Mexico State debacle a few years ago under Bruce Snyder. However, it is the most embarrassing display in a rivalry game in a long time.

There have been other losses, but the Wildcat teams that prevailed that day were much better than the one that adorned the all blue yesterday. The UofA squads that beat higher ranked ASU teams had won some games and at least ended up with five or six wins.

The 2004 Wildcats were, and I suspect still are, a bad football team. They had two wins before yesterday's triumph: a ref-assisted win over D-IAA Northern Arizona and a win in the "toilet bowl" over a last place Washington team. That's it. They could not beat anyone else, except ASU when it mattered most.

There are many ways to describe how the Devils performed yesterday. In coach speak, they "didn't execute." Or maybe they "shot themselves in the foot too many times." Or how about, they "weren't able to make plays when we needed to."

Those are all nice phrases that have become clichés in today's sports world. However, what happened yesterday deserves a more graphic description. This phrase is used more in pop culture than in sports. Call it slang, if you want. But it is a much more accurate description of how die-hard Sun Devil fans view yesterday's effort.

Simply put, the Sun Devils "crapped the bed." And it stinks.

Damaging

This loss is also very damaging to the fans' view of the season. Yes, the team ended up 8-3. Yes, they were undefeated at Sun Devil Stadium. Yes, two of those losses were on the road against top five competition. Yes, the Devils completely dismantled co-Big Ten champions Iowa. Yes, the Devils will probably end up in the Holiday Bowl.

But they lost to 2-8 Arizona.

That is how the fans will view this season. Whether it is right or wrong, the fans' excitement about this season will be downgraded because of the loss to the woeful Wildcats.

Coaches, players, and athletic department administrators will be up in arms about how one game can have such a drastic effect on the fan base's sentiments. "It's only one game," will be the overwhelming sentiment. "We're still going to a good bowl game," will be another.

Both are true, but the fans' view of the rivalry is what it is, has been, and will be. It is - and the coaches, players, and administrators should read this over and over again until they understand it and take it to heart – the game the fans view as the most important game of the year irregardless of how the rest of the season went.

Whether or not those "on the inside" view it that way or think it should be viewed that way, the fans will continue to consider the game against Arizona as the most important one of the year.

Any time the Devils lose to the Wildcats, the season will be viewed a little more negatively. No bowl game, save a Rose Bowl win or national championship, will change it.

On top of Sun Devil fans' views on the season, Dirk Koetter and crew have other issues to deal with because of this loss. People within the state of Arizona and even many national commentators will now view the football power in the state as shifting down to Tucson over the next few years. Excitement is back to a fever pitch down south and this win will buoy their entire off-season efforts.

The pitch to anyone that cares to listen – recruits, fans, media, etc. - will be that yes, they ended the season with only three wins; however, they almost beat Wisconsin, held Utah to 23, and played USC tough for a half. Oh, and by they way, they also beat a ranked ASU team to end the season. And Mr. Recruit, do you need us to send you the tapes of the Sun Devils' games against Cal and USC? Great! We'll mail them today.

Arizona coach Mike Stoops was on the radio version of College Game Day with Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler saying these exact things. Even the two well-known analysts mentioned a power shift within the state.

It's amazing how yesterday's loss changes the views of the two teams' seasons. The Cats are now a Cinderella story, an "up and comer," and a program on the rise. ASU is now a team that chokes in its big games, has an irritated fan base, and is desperately trying to hold off their in-state rivals.

The accuracy of those statements can and will be debated. But there isn't much doubt that many outside the respective programs and fan bases will view the rivals in that manner.

Inexcusable

To say something is inexcusable is a harsh statement, especially when dealing with 18-22 year olds. They will make mistakes. And those mistakes are very excusable for a variety of reasons.

But yesterday's loss was and is inexcusable. All of the embarrassment and damage described above could easily be avoided by beating Arizona.

But it didn't happen. Simply put, the Cats wanted it more. And there is no real excuse for not coming out fired up and focused against your rival.

ASU had every advantage on the field going into the game. They had a record setting QB and better receivers to throw to, an improved and opportunistic defense, and a coach who was experienced in the rivalry.

In the end, none of that mattered. It all came down to desire and the Cats won that battle overwhelmingly.

Little did ASU fans know at the time, but the lack of focus showed itself before kickoff. Four players violated team rules, including senior leaders like Riccardo Stewart and Justin Burks. Whether the violations were "goofy," as described by Stewart, or serious, they helped to set a tone leading up to the game.

The lack of focus showed during the game, too. The Devils lost five turnovers, had a field goal blocked, turned the ball over on downs on the one foot line, dropped a first down pass inside the Cats' ten yard line during crunch time, and generally didn't look sharp all day.

Realistically, the gap between the two teams was large enough that ASU could have played mediocre and still come out with a win. As it was, they gave one of their worst performances of the season and still had a chance to tie the score with their second string QB in the game. Give the Wildcats credit, they came out and played their best game all season.

Still, the Cats were overmatched. Only ASU should have been able to stop themselves from winning. Unfortunately for us Devil fans, ASU stopping themselves was about the only successful stop they got all day.

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