September 14, 2008

Sun Devils agonizing over loss to Rebels

Saturday's game against UNLV was supposed to be a simple tune up. Instead Arizona State had a major breakdown.

An inferior football team drove into town, literally, and then drove a stake through the collective heart of the Sun Devil Nation.

A lot of the talk around Sun Devil Stadium before the game was about how Georgia looked very beatable in its 14-7 win over South Carolina earlier in the day.

After the game, there was hardly any talk at all.

Except among the UNLV faithful.

They were no doubt celebrating the play of freshman receiver Phillip Payne, whose miraculous one-handed grab in the end zone forced overtime.

And ASU was just plain feeling the pain.

This wasn't supposed to happen.

No. 15 ASU losing to a 22-point underdog UNLV team with loses in 21 of its last 22 road games and a coach one and seven-eights feet out the door?

The Dennis Erickson-led Sun Devils?

Impossible, right?

Wrong.

By Erickson's own admission, ASU failed to capitalize on its opportunities.

"We didn't take advantage of things early and we kept them in the game, a lot because of them," Erickson said.

The Sun Devils again played extremely conservatively, keeping much of their playbook in reserve on both sides of the ball throughout the game for the third week in a row.

Speaking to the media afterwards, ASU players maintained they had not saved their best effort for the Bulldogs.

But it seemed as though some of their best plays had been saved for future use, perhaps out of a desire to take Georgia by surprise.

Instead, ASU was the team left in shock.

And UNLV coach Mike Sanford was left in tears.

"It's the best win of my life," said Sanford, a coach who has won just two games in each of his first three seasons as a head coach.

And that's exactly what this was possibly the worst loss at ASU since 1999, when Bruce Snyder's team lost 35-7 to New Mexico State.

It wasn't that bad, certainly, but it's undoubtedly the worst non-conference home loss of the decade.

That's bad enough.

The Sun Devils were due for this mind you. In fact, overdue.

They'd won eight straight games decided by three or fewer points dating back to a 38-35 loss to North Carolina in Tempe on Oct. 5 2002.

Streaks like that don't go on forever.

But this wasn't the time for such a streak to end. Not with No. 2 Georgia on deck and the Sun Devils looking for a home run signature win.

Now that game no longer has the same appeal.

And with a loss in that game, the University may again have to appeal for support -- something that tends to be fleeting around Tempe.

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