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September 19, 2011

Sun Devils again befuddle on road

Oh, and if you spend your whole life

Rollin horses into Troy

No, you will not go to Heaven

You'll go to Champaign, Illinois

Songwriters: Bob Dylan; Carl Perkins

Pardon the following metaphor.

It wasn't a final judgment, clearly. Maybe Arizona State fans hope Memorial Stadium was purgatory; the site of a necessary and temporary torture, a place of painful cleansing that sets the Sun Devils free into a supernal ascension. For a destined team -- as junior quarterback Brock Osweiler seemed to imply after Saturday's game -- everything happens for a reason.

Yeah, probably not.

For most fans, the lyrics are probably interpreted in an entirely different way.

Something like, who the heck do they think they're kidding?

Sure, here come the Trojans, but maybe the rollin' horse is a trick the Sun Devils like to play on themselves and their faithful. Yes, the same old trick played throughout Dennis Erickson's life at ASU. This time it was disguised behind a Top 25 ranking and a Hindenburg of hype.

Yes, the joke, now old with the local scribes: 'use last week's gamer, just change the opponent.'

Oh the insanity.

They aren't all perfectly parallel -- between Saturday's 17-14 loss to Illinois and a one-point defeat to Wisconsin, an 11 point loss to Oregon, a four point loss to Stanford, a three point loss to Oregon State, a one point loss to USC , and going back to 2009, a three point loss to Georgia, a two point loss to Cal, a five point loss to USC and a three point loss to Arizona -- but there is an undeniable overarching principle through it all, a unifying commonality that's quite abstract and impossible to pinpoint, yet at the same time clearly understood as a hash tag. You see, it's after these heartbreakers (for fans, tssk, tssk) that some in the local media's young demographic share one simple text that always sums it up.

#asubruh

Some who have been around a little longer often use ASU as an acronym: Always Something University.

Either way, if you're not into the whole brevity thing, talk about penalties (and it would be within your right as an unbiased football fan, not a homer, to complain about consistent bad calls against ASU) missed or blocked kicks, red-zone inefficiency, breakdowns in coverage against play-action pass and an assortment of what amounts to fiddle-faddle when constructing a coherent narrative.

With this team, statements of fact always lead back to questions begat of brain-hemorrhaging befuddlement, a feedback loop of circular logic. The Sun Devils are a yet-to-be-solved Rubik's Cube. Every time you get one face in mono-chrome, it seems to paradoxically set three others into chaos.

The problem is that a Rubik's Cube has 43 quintillion permutations. The current regime may only have a few shots left to figure it out. A loss against USC….

Worse yet, it at times seems as though it's rotating the same single column over and over, waiting for magic -- a recipe for heavy rotation in the 'L' column.

For those who think they have all the answers for the program, however, consider the following paradoxes.

How does a team that gave up close to 200 yards and five yards per carry a week earlier at home against a team missing its top two running back, come back to hold one of the country's most prolific running teams to its lowest total output and yards per carry average since 2009, despite losing its starting defensive end on the first play of the game, and oh yeah, do it on the road?

How does a Sun Devil offense only score 14 points against what was considered a middling-at-best defense, when it put up 37 against what most consider one of the country's top front sevens?

Here's one: for every time the Sun Devils got inside the Fightin' Illini 45 yard line (8), they scored less than two points (14).

How does an offense that had one of its worst pass protecting performances in recent memory, manage to convert on five third downs of five yards or longer, all by the pass? Moreover, how does a 6-foot-8 inch quarterback get a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage, and how do three of his passes bounce of offensive lineman and go straight into the hands of the opponent?

It's the kind physics that would keep Stephen Hawking up at night.

But this is less Big Bang, and more chicken or the egg.

Talk about penalties, but ponder if by allowing his team to play loose, Erickson gets a team of relatively average recruiting rank to maximize aggressiveness and potential. Call it a red herring, but you've got to admit it smells. Maybe it's not even a part of Erickson's subconscious to allow his team to play loose and worry about consequences after the whistle and maybe his coaching style has nothing to do with it all. Call the two unrelated if you so choose, but consider that even emotionally-based penalties could be associated with a mental freedom - something all athletes' desire under the intense pressure of a 12 game season.

Maybe the good outweighs the bad.

Or, perhaps, a re-examination of expectations is in order. How talented is the offense, in particular, and how much of its success is dependent on what is clearly a very effective and entertaining scheme, but what some might call gimmicky? Similar to the seven-seconds-or-less Suns who spread the floor, played from the perimeter-in, and had a hard time getting points when the game slowed down and the court shrunk, the Sun Devils create their downfield opportunities and running lanes by utilizing every horizontal inch of the 53 1/3 yard wide field, creating open opportunities that the team's perimeter players may not be have in other offenses. Like the Suns, the Sun Devils are a fast-break offense that may struggle in close quarters, where the game is most often decided by brawn and quick-twitch muscle fibers.

Or maybe the most vocal skeptics have it right. The Sun Devils are an extremely talented team that loses because its lacks discipline, a line of logic that leads to the implication that the Sun Devils have national championship-caliber talent, judging by the should-have-been-wins dating back to last year against Stanford, Oregon and Wisconsin, and that the only thing that held them back from holding a Tostito's Bowl were penalties and poor execution.

Maybe we'll find out next week, or maybe the answer comes from another Dylan song.

Why must you always try to make me over?

Take me as I am or let me go

White lilies never grow on stalks of clover



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