This week’s game in Tempe goes a bit further than Xs and Os, the physical part of the game won’t be the toughest aspect on Saturday for the Sun Devils. With it being senior day, fans, families and the school will have a send off for players such as Renell Wren, Demonte King and of course Manny Wilkins. But head coach Herm Edwards knows the emotions can’t get the best of his team.
“This is an important game, they all become important. They’re all games that can dictate what happens to you as a football team,” Edwards said. “So I think the mindset for our coaches is pretty much set. We went over that yesterday, had a good meeting with the staff, got the players well-aware of what’s going on.
“As I said, senior week is always big. A lot of distractions. Family coming in town, players being pulled here or there, hearing about all these things that they can accomplish but they can’t accomplish anything unless you’ve got the right mindset, and that’s go to work, go to practice. We’ve got to make sure we get focused on practicing well this week so we have an opportunity to win the game.”
Not only is senior day going to be a factor on Saturday, but the idea of dealing with success. As everyone can recall, the Sun Devils jumped to 2-0 record to start the year, found themselves in the Top 25 after an upset victory against Michigan State. They followed it up by losing at San Diego State by touchdown where they were flat for 28 minutes of the second half. A trip to Seattle resulted in losing by a touchdown to a top 10 Washington Huskies team, where Edwards said they left opportunities on the field.
Edwards after the two-game losing streak, talked about how his team didn’t handle success well. With a team loaded with freshmen, JUCO kids and transfers, the change with first-team accomplishment of winning at the Division I level was a learning experience.
Now, the Sun Devils have won back-to-back games again, games against USC and Utah that not many saw them winning. Part of that is due to the young, inexperienced defense starting to cut down the mental mistakes that plagued them earlier in the season. The offense has also started to sustain more drives.
Edwards was asked if beating Utah following a road win in the Coliseum against USC, was a sign of the team handling success better.
“Negative. We’ll see. We’ll see how we handle it,” he said. “This team, like UCLA and like Arizona, new head coaches trying to build a program and every time you play a game, you find out a little bit more about your football team. So I think that’s important and we’ll see where we’re at after this game.”
Not only are dealing with success and the distractions of senior day in the minds’ of the Sun Devils. The two wins over Utah and USC have set them on a path if they win-out against UCLA, Oregon and Arizona they’ll be the Pac-12 South representative in Santa Clara, California for the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium.
Defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales talked about all of the events heading into Saturday and how Edwards has dealt with it.
“The hardest elements of Saturday, I think it’s everything. I think you’re gonna have, it’s the final game for seniors, you got all their parents and all the stuff that they do at the beginning of the game down on the field. You’ve got all the talk about the Pac-12 South. All that stuff doesn’t mean anything if we lose,” he said. “You have to take it one day at a time, I don’t think you win games on Saturday. I think you win games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you give yourself a chance to be successful on Saturday. They’re starting to understand that the way they practice. I thought today’s practice was pretty good. Yesterday’s was okay. Tuesday practices are usually a little bit slower because you’re trying to do some stuff, trying to do some new stuff and you’re introducing some stuff, today was pretty good.
“If they have another good day tomorrow, and now is the time of the year that you kind of cut things back a little bit so that they can be fresh on Saturday because I think having a fresh football team is the most important. If they can block all those things out when it becomes game time then you have a chance. Now I think coach (Edwards) does a tremendous job all week long because we actually do things around here that people don’t. We talk about those things, we try and educate those guys on things that are going to happen, we try and let them know, it’s going to be senior day. The seniors are the most important guys on your football team because they have the most invested.”
The Bruins are 2-7, they rank 119th in scoring offense, 110th in scoring defense, at this time Chip Kelly’s bunch isn’t a great team. They’ve shown flashes of figuring it out however, they’ve won two Pac-12 games, one in a blowout and one in a close game. If the Sun Devils don’t focus on the game at hand there’s a chance UCLA leaves Tempe with their third win.