Wow, even I didn't see that coming. In last week's edition of this very column that prides itself on absurdity, the worst scenario that I could've ever possibly dreamt up for the Sun Devils against UCLA was a 45-14 loss. One 62-27 shellacking later and I guess I have to step up my cynicism game.
So we've made it through the brutal week of criticism and scrutiny that follows a high-profile program after taking a beating like the Sun Devils did last Thursday. Too bad it doesn't get any easier. It was a great few years not having USC as a perennial national contender but the Trojans have finally climbed out of the hole Pete Carroll dropped them in, and the future in Los Angeles is bright.
Even if USC was still in the midst of their down years, my eternal cynicism is immediately justified when looking at this Sun Devil defense. I mean my goodness, Todd Graham's team looked like it completely forgot the concept of tackling, and rather spent the game trying to see how many times they could get run over or juked out. By the way I think Jordan Simone wins that category with the crossover clinic that Paul Perkins gave him. What followed was what every football coach doesn't want to see, a degradation in discipline. Arizona State's best player on defense, Damarious Randall, committed a boneheaded hit out of bounds on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley that let the few fans that were still there at Sun Devil Stadium that it was time for them to head for the exits.
On the offensive side of the ball, another week without Taylor Kelly seems to be less of a concern around Sun Devil nation than it was last week. I'll be the first to admit that my initial skepticism of Mike Bercovici was a little overly-pessimistic, but hey, that's what I do here. Bercovici performed well on Thursday night, except for the play at the end of the first half when he apparently developed schizophrenia that convinced him to throw the ball over the middle to a UCLA defender. Still, Bercovici wasn't the problem for Arizona State's offense on the night. No, the guy who needs to step up after a subpar performance against the UCLA defense is golden boy D.J. Foster, who didn't impact the game against UCLA at all except for his lost fumble that led to a Bruin field goal.
So exactly how much lower can the Sun Devils sink after the embarrassment against the Bruins? Much, much lower.
The Cynical Sun Devil's Worst Case Scenario
A week spent explaining himself for the UCLA loss and seeing the controversy up in Michigan surrounding head coach Brady Hoke's handling of Shane Morris' concussion, the pressure to coach and monitor each player's health begins to wear on Todd Graham. In a moment of reflection while drinking a cup of his trademark "Todd's Toffee Coffee", he decides to make drastic changes. First, he creates a new concussion protocol that he calls "Todd's Temple Test." This test involves every player reciting the Sun Devil alma mater song to Graham after the end of each series, except they have to do it backwards. If they hesitate or get the song wrong, Graham yanks them.
"If they can't recite the alma mater then they're either concussed or worse, a Wildcat," Graham says with a slight grin.
Fast forward to kickoff at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Graham's Sun Devils are all ready to go beat the Trojans. After their first defensive series, Graham's first implementation of the "Todd Temple Test" comes when he makes Damarious Randall and the rest of the defense recite the alma mater song.
"State Arizona, Mater Alma thee, hail we here, gate's sunset at lie--"
"WRONG!," Graham interrupts. Randall is yanked from the game and sent to the locker room for further evaluation (reciting the fight song backwards.)
With no plausible way to recall the alma mater chant backwards on cue, Graham's players are picked off one by one, even though none of them sustain any hits to the head. By the end of the game Graham removes a total of 32 players for "concussion-related symptoms" in a 52-17 loss. "I was feeling fine," Bercovici says. "I even remembered the whole song backwards, I just took a second off from it to go over a play call with coach Norvell and coach Graham took me out. I feel fine."
When asked if he thought he went a little too far with his protocol, Graham says "In this business I'm either going to get all of the credit or all of the blame. You've got to find a way to keep your players' health a priority, and making them sing a song backwards seemed like the best way to do that."