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ASU Football: Sun Devils looking forward as conference play begins

Building off last week

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It was an upset that is viewed as an early-season statement. The Devils, who stormed out of East Lansing as 10-7 victors in front of 70,000 people with a freshman quarterback, made national headlines and had people turning their heads after last weekend’s win against Michigan State.

A No. 24 national ranking in the AP poll has been donned upon them, and instead of underdogs as they were last week, ASU is now a favorite against Colorado to begin Pac-12 play. The taste is all too familiar.

“You have a little bit of success and how do you handle it? Last year, we were in a similar spot. We had some success and we got our nose punched in so we’ll find out,” said head coach Herm Edwards, describing last year’s underwhelming 28-21 loss at San Diego State after defeating MSU. “All the warning signs are there. And I’m going to talk about it all week. Then we’re going to go on the ballyard and we’ll find out. But we’ll see how we handle it.”

Thus, the hangover game is set in front of the Sun Devils. Will they build momentum off of last week and take care of business at home?

Or, will they revert to the demons of years’ past?

For the hope of ASU fans alike, the hope is that the narrative is a different story this year, because for as much as people learned about the team last week, just as much can be taken from this weekend’s 7 p.m. kickoff at home.

It was mentioned last week by Edwards that 28 freshmen played against the Spartans. This week, it’s more than likely that those same 28 will find their way onto the field. With a young group, there are two avenues to look down.

One path is that the youngsters don’t know any better and will go out and perform, and the other is that there will be too much of a high coming off last week’s victory.

Both Edwards, and the players who were on last year’s team wanted to make that a clear reiteration throughout practice and game preparation this week.

“I think sometimes, players don’t really realize when they have these opportunities. They don’t come a lot when you are rolling like this,” Edwards said. “We are rolling and we aren’t even consistent on offense yet. I think that’s going to be mentioned here this week...Last year, we didn’t listen and it went to deaf ears...We went down there and they put it on us.”

The message has been made clear, now it’s just a matter of if the Sun Devils can execute and tune out the noise.

This year’s team isn’t the same as last year, but the threat of a let down still looms in the distance. If one thing has been made apparent, it’s that Edwards’ players have taken the shape of their coach, and no matter how bright the lights, they have downplayed all of it to go out and perform thus far in 2019.

Edwards delved into that mindset about staying at a steady pace with a calm persona to achieve greater success.

“Hopefully, it’s the environment that they play in and they are coached in,” said Edwards of his team’s calm and poised demeanor. “I would hope that is eventually a part of our DNA...I get it all the time from these guys, they say, ‘Coach, you just always kind of stay calm.’ I say, ‘Yeah, I have to because I have to make decisions and I don’t get caught up in all of that other stuff.’ I just think that we want them to be emotional, right? But I don’t want emotion. I want people that are passionate.

“Because when you are emotional, you make errors. You see it every week on television. You see it every week in games with emotional decisions. Then guys will clap their hands and say, ‘My bad.’ Well, not really. It’s the whole team’s bad. Be passionate, and I think when big moments arise, there’s a calmness you have to have.”

Colorado’s offense averages over 35 points per game, and the defense faces a test in junior wideout Laviska Shenault. The offense is still proving itself, and the pressure is now intensified. ASU is back in the top-25, an experience that was short-lived last year. It was one thing to earn the honor, but now it’s a matter of if the team can sustain it.

“That’s really good,” said Edwards of his team’s ranking. “But it doesn’t do anything for me.”