Teyo Johnson, a party to the carnage in Tempe last Saturday, claimed valiantly after his team had just been nuked on national TV that his squad's prolific pratfalls and miscues over the course of the afternoon were correctable. He did not, however, indicate whether he meant this year.
Smart money says that they probably won't be ironed out in time for the trip to South Bend this week. Which is a shame on several levels because the evidence is mounting that Tyrone Willingham, late of Cardinal football and now rumored to be modeling at Notre Dame for an on-campus statue to adjoin Touchdown Jesus, has a sense of timing that rivals the cliff divers of Acapulco. He believed it when his fuel gauge on his program at Stanford read "E" as the road signs warned that the next gas station was 100 miles up the pike. The butt-ugly fact is, at this moment anyway, the Cardinal team he abandoned looks to the football world like metaphorical orphans: disheveled, dirty-faced, sad-eyed. Getting bullied by second-rate playground bad-boys. Sixty-five freakin' points to Arizona State? Sixteen points on "offense" until garbage time? The rap on the Sun Devils, a mere one-point favorite last week was that, despite the 4-0 record, they "really hadn't played anybody."
Maybe they still haven't.
Cardinal football is an established program described, during those promising weeks of two-a-day practices, as being on the threshold of the next level. None other than Buddy Teevens said as much to anyone who would listen and/or take notes. "They may be young," he told The Bootleg magazine in the premiere issue (August 2002). "But I won't let that be a crutch for them. It's no excuse."
You can bet your Boot Toot ™ that Buddy's earning the Ted Leland autograph on his paycheck this week. He's looking straight into the face masks of players who need it brought forcefully to their attention that it's a threshold they're standing on, and not a ledge. Based on some of the facial expressions and body language of the shell-shocked troops we saw limping off the field last week, beaten and bowed, that's gonna take some selling.
Drawing conclusions based on single game, of course, is fraught with hazard. Especially when it comes to schoolboy teams. But the signs are as ominous as the thunderclouds over Tempe: turnovers, undisciplined execution, confusion, arrhythmic offense, and a defense where maybe seven or eight guys are playing full-time at any one time. In short: no fun, no gun, and we can't blame the sun.
Yes, there have been other recent shellackings, the most notorious of which, the 69-17 mass destruction by Texas, was followed two months later by a conference championship clinched, ironically, at Sun Devil Stadium. And who wants to remember the 63-28 walloping by Oregon the year before? Certainly not me. But there are a couple of big differences: the quality of the respective opponents. No one is comparing Arizona State this year to those teams. But neither can anyone confuse the team Willingham abandoned last winter for the one he took to Pasadena. So, is ‘Rone going to pose wearing those new, cool shades?