A very emotional Manny Wilkins walked into the post-game press conference. The redshirt senior quarterback clearly had been crying, clearly frustrated with himself. Frustrated with how he played. Frustrated that for the fourth time this season, he walked away from a game in which his team had lost by one touchdown.
“I’m sick and tired of coming in here always saying it’s one play away. We got to fix it,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins turned the ball over twice in the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) 20-13 loss to the Stanford Cardinal (5-2, 3-1) on Thursday night. Wilkins watched the clock on the final play empty to nothing after an error from himself.
Arizona State had a chance to tie the game late. With no timeouts left, ball at the Stanford 20-yard line, Wilkins dropped back to pass with the game on the line. Wilkins avoided the free rusher, his initial read covered, he dumped it off to sophomore running back Eno Benjamin. Benjamin didn’t have a chance to get out of bounds or into the end zone. He was tackled at the 18-yard line and the clock ticked to 0:00 for another Sun Devil loss.
“I pride myself on taking care of the football. Two turnovers on my part is completely inexcusable. I feel like I let the team down, got to be smart,” Wilkins said. “Give ourselves a chance at the end — in my head I knew not to take a sack. I should’ve thrown it at Eno’s feet, instead I threw it at his chest and he caught it. Just poor football clock management and spacial awareness on my part.”
Stanford used a a two-touchdown third quarter to go up 20-6. Senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside got the inside of redshirt sophomore cornerback Chase Lucas to catch a 28-yard touchdown. Senior running back Cameron Scarlett scored from a yard out with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
In the same spot he and the rest of the Sun Devil team had been in during the losses to San Diego State and Washington, Wilkins was down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. On the first drive of the fourth quarter, Wilkins had one of his two turnovers. On 3rd-and-19, Wilkins took a shot downfield, the ball ended up in the hands of Cardinal sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo. Stanford didn’t score of the turnover, which they did when they got a field goal off of Wilkins’ first half fumble, but they did take more time off the clock.
Time that ASU didn’t have. A factor in the game they never controlled. At the end of it, Stanford had the ball for 38:17 compared to ASU’s 21:43.
“That’s what they want to do, is possess the ball for long periods of time. We couldn’t sustain drives and that’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel for the most part on offense,” said head coach Herm Edwards.
The time difference was a big ask for the Sun Devil defense, but they played well enough to win. However, critical penalties did hurt the Sun Devils. Freshman safety Aashari Crosswell had a night he’d want to forget. Crosswell was flagged three times for 40 yards from two pass interference penalties and a holding call. One of the interference calls coming on the Arcega-Whiteside touchdown drive.
“To me, it was the fouls, the big penalties and the turnovers. You don’t do that, you don’t generally do that,” Edwards said. “At the end you have a chance to tie it up and you turn the ball over, you drop the ball. It’s sloppy play. That’s on us.”
The four losses of Edwards’ coaching tenure at Arizona State have each been by a score. Plenty of fingers point to certain plays in each game, but that doesn’t change the Sun Devils record. Edwards will continue to search for the key to changing the outcome.
“If I had the formula, I would feed it to them. But I don’t have it right now. I like their effort, I know that. They play hard, it’s never over for these kids,” Edwards said. “They just keep coming, they keep fighting, no matter how bad it looks. It looked bad for awhile, then all of a sudden you make a couple of plays the energy goes up. We’re back in the ball game.”
The Sun Devils’ effort won’t be questioned by anyone. Plenty else will be. How can the offense get back on track? Will the team find the trick to turning the close losses into victories? How can they stop being their own worst enemy?
Through seven games of the season, there’s more questions than answers in Tempe. They’ll have 10 days to find resolutions to their lingering problems before heading to Los Angeles for a date next Saturday with the USC Trojans. Will things improve? Only time will tell.