Monday, October 3, 2022

Arizona State continues to grapple after ugly defeat

TEMPE, Ariz. (NWN) — A barefoot Jake Plummer took off from the group photo and did a partial lap around his former teammates, laughing all the way.

Plummer and crew were back in Tempe on Saturday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Arizona State’s last Rose Bowl appearance.

Subsequent performances against Washington State were a sign that the Sun Devils were no closer to ending the drought under coach Harm Edwards than any other coach since Bill Snyder in 1996.

“It’s our third season, football is tough, it ain’t easy,” Edwards said. “The Rose Bowl team was here this weekend and that team was there 25 years ago, so that gives you an idea of ​​how hard it is. If it was easy, it just would have been.”

Edwards was hired in 2018 to revive a program that had had modest success under previous coach Todd Graham, yet Holiday, Sun and Cactus did not climb past bowl level.

Athletic director Ray Anderson gave a clear directive for the direction of the program under Edwards: the top two consistently in the Pac-12, the top 15 in the nation. This meant playing in the Pac-12 Championship and major bowl games.

The Sun Devils have continually stumbled trying to take the next step.

At least it started off well.

Edwards, a former NFL coach and TV analyst, shrugged off skeptics by showing that he had the chops to coach a college game, win on the field, and some recruiting battles.

Arizona State won seven games and went to the Las Vegas Bowl in Edwards’ first season, backing him up with an eight-win season in 2019 and a win at the Sun Bowl.

The pandemic-reversed 2020 season wreaked havoc on teams across the country and the Sun Devils were hard-hit, unable to build any momentum despite a string of postponements and cancellations. They finished 2–2, but one of those victories was a 70–7 loss to rivals Arizona.

Arizona State had hopes in its fourth season under Edwards. The Sun Devils had talent and depth in almost every position, being one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in Jaden Daniels and ranked 25th in the Associated Press Presidency Poll.

After a 2–0 start, the 27–17 loss to BYU was seen as a slipup against a team that would later break into the top 10.

Arizona State returned with victories over Colorado, UCLA and Stanford to take control of the Pac-12 South. The goal of reaching the Pac-12 championship game seemed within reach.

After two straight disappointing defeats, the Sun Devils are now ready to help if they go on to win the South.

And it wasn’t just the loss. Thus the state of Arizona was defeated.

The Sun Devils led Utah 21–7 at halftime, then dashed unopposed in a second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium, seeing as the Utahs scored 28 straight points for a 35–21 victory.

Arizona State had a week to resolve its issues and find a way to build momentum against Washington State on Saturday. The Sun Devils instead extended a flat-line performance from the second half against the Cougars to the first half in Salt Lake City.

Arizona State trailed 28–0—which was 56 straight points in two halves—before scoring just before halftime. The Sun Devils scored two late touchdowns, making the 34-21 loss closer than it actually was.

“We didn’t respond,” Edwards said. “We didn’t react in a way that gave us a chance and it’s all about reacting to what happened to you. We did not respond to adversity. “

Persistent flops, along with the NCAA investigation into improper hiring, led to calls for Edwards to be fired.

But there is still at least a chance of redemption on the field.

At 3–2, the Sun Devils (5–3) are only one game behind Utah in the Pac-12 South Division where no dominant team has emerged.

Arizona State hosts Southern California on Saturday, followed by games against Washington, Oregon State and winless Arizona.

“It’s about the process and where it starts,” Edwards said. “Every week you have a chance to win a game. The joy you feel, the achievement you feel to win as a football team. And we haven’t felt that way.”

The talent is still there. The Sun Devils just have to find a way to get it back in the right direction.


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