The next week the Sun Devils had Oregon on the ropes with a 24-14 lead late in the second quarter. They held the Ducks powerful offense to 385 total yards including a scant 125 on the ground. But seven ASU turnovers allowed Oregon to win the game 42-31—its smallest margin of victory all season.
The loss against Oregon State the following week wasn't any easier to swallow. After finding themselves in a 24-14 halftime deficit, the Devils mounted a furious comeback late in the game only to lose by a field goal.
And then there was last Saturday. The game against USC might have been the straw that broke the Devils' back.
Trailing 29-14 late in the third quarter, ASU came storming back and was in position to take a 34-29 lead after a touchdown with seven minutes to play. But the PAT attempt was blocked and returned the length of the field for two Trojan points. On USC's ensuing possession, a personal foul penalty prolonged the drive which set up the game-winning field goal. The Sun Devils had one last opportunity to pull off the upset but Thomas Weber's 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
One has to wonder if Arizona State has anything left in the tank emotionally.
"It just rips your players' hearts out," head coach Dennis Erickson said. "We have to overcome that and not have that affect us. But it was very somber around here Sunday, no question about it."
The silver lining for this squad is that it has experienced the lows that only a fifth-year senior might have endured. The team is young with only two seniors in the starting lineup so the character built from these losses could prove to be invaluable in years to come. And an upset this week could save the season.
"I think they know they're good," said Jim Harbaugh. "You could make the case this is a 7-2 or 8-1 ballclub. This game is a chance to prove that."
"He's a guy that gets better as the game goes on. He gives his team a chance to win," Harbaugh said of Threet. "He's been a huge part of Arizona State's resurgence offensively."
When playing Arizona State in the past, an opponent primarily had to focus on scoring against its better-than-average defense because the offense wasn't going to be much of a threat. Threet is more composed and has a better arm than any of the previous Sun Devil statues.
"Last year we did a really good job because we'd figured out their tendencies pretty well. So we had a pretty good idea pre-snap of what we were going to get," said Shayne Skov. "They've really changed the offense. It's not predictable in ways that it was last year so it has definitely evolved."
Arizona State mostly executes the gun-read with Threet under center. The tempo of the offense has increased exponentially because of that—which has been the Cardinal's Achilles heel all season. A total of 16 different Devils have caught passes this season, the same number as Stanford, and nine receivers have 10 or more receptions.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Devils play with speed and aggression.
"They have a good scheme and they buy into that," Luck said. "It's a very athletic, fast, flow-to-the-ball type of defense. Their middle linebacker is a stud."
Vontaze Burfict is one of the most talented linebackers in the Pac-10, if not all of college football. In part though, the chatter is because the sophomore has a tendency to make bone-headed plays. He was the culprit for the personal foul that setup USC's winning field goal, and he's committed costly penalties all season. It will be interesting to see if the heady Stanford players try to bait him into some mistakes.
But every one of ASU's defenders runs downhill and aims to de-cleat the opposition. True freshman Junior Onyeali has been a beast at defensive end, but he may be without his pass-rushing counterpart James Brooks this weekend.
Brooks suffered a concussion against the Trojans and is questionable to play. Linebacker Gerald Munns is dealing with a hip pointer and his status is uncertain for Saturday.
Some are calling this a "trap" game for the Cardinal. The betting public certainly has bought into the notion as Stanford opened as a touchdown favorite for the contest but is now listed as five-point chalk. Tune in Saturday night to see how the action unfolds.
About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as Bookmaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at email@example.com
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