A sea of crimson in the northeast corner was the only portion of Sun Devil Stadium that remained full as the minutes slowly ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter.
“Go! Cougs! Go! Cougs!”
The Washington State rally cry was easily audible in an otherwise cavernous venue. The party was on for the visiting fans, as their team put the finishing touches on a shocking 34-21 rout of Arizona State Saturday afternoon in Tempe. Arizona State’s second straight loss was perhaps the most disappointing of the Herm Edwards era, and that’s a stacked class. The Sun Devils are 5-3, and their Pac-12 South hopes are all but dashed. If not mathematically, certainly morally.
“We have to look at ourselves in the mirror right now,” quarterback Jayden Daniels said. “What type of season do we wanna have? The south is out of our control, but we’re still 5-3. A championship is not completely out of our reach.”
If you tuned into the game on Saturday, you might disagree.
The first half may as well have been played as the third half of Arizona State’s loss at Utah two weeks ago. The Sun Devils turned the ball over three times, and once on downs. They allowed third and long conversions, as well as third and fourth and short conversions on defense. They false started on a made field goal, and missed the ensuing try. They fumbled again at the end of a big first down gain. Arizona State allowed multiple deep strikes from WSU quarterback Jayden De Laura, and was consistently gashed in the run game.
The home fans, clad in black and sweating out a hot afternoon, serenaded ASU with boos throughout the half. A smattering of “fire Herm” chants were heard, and an already thin crowd shrunk considerably by the time the teams headed to the halftime locker room. If not for a final minute touchdown strike from Daniels to LV Bunkley-Shelton, ASU would have been shut out. From halftime in Salt Lake City, to halftime Saturday afternoon, Arizona State was outscored 56-7.
Washington State, a program that has been dealing with the tumult of a mid-season head coach firing, looked in every way like the better team Saturday on the road against an Arizona State team that should beat them 10 times out of 10 on paper. According to Herm Edwards, it comes down to execution.
“We gotta execute, we didn’t execute,” Edwards said. “When you don’t execute, and you turn the ball over, and you allow big plays, it’s very difficult to win. And that’s how the game turned out early, and we were playing catch up.”
The defense came to play in the second half, but the offense certainly did not. After somehow not punting in a half in which it trailed 28-7, punter Eddie Czaplicki frequented the field in the third quarter, punting three times. His services weren’t needed on the fourth drive, however, as Jayden Daniels threw his second interception of the day. Washington State was content to nurse its sizeable lead, and Arizona State put little pressure on them in a lackluster second half.
“We talked all week about how Washington State is like top in the country in forcing fumbles and getting after the football, it’s frustrating because that’s something we harped on all week,” Daniels said. “We put the defense in bad situations. I have no words for the turnovers, two of them were on me and at the end of the day I have to play better. The offense has to play better.”
Defensive end Michael Matus was quick to jump to the defense of his quarterback, and the offense as a whole.
“I definitely want to point out that we gave up 28 points in the first half, this is not all on Jayden,” Matus said. “We didn’t respond well. This isn’t just Jayden, this isn’t just the offense, this is all of us.”
An already upset crowd became irate in the third quarter, when Herm Edwards elected to punt on fourth-and-3 at the 48-yard line, with his team trailing by 21. A dejected offense jogged off the field as an encore round of boos filled the stadium. Any Sun Devil fan who had been holding back on jeering the home team wasn’t any longer.
“I was looking at the time and the clock, and if you don’t make it there, then you have no shot,” Edwards said. “That’s a decision you gotta make, it’s just one of those deals.”
The decision came as a surprise to Daniels, who said he was looking to the sideline for the fourth down play when he saw the punt team come on the field.
“Of course as a player you wanna go for that and get some momentum back,” Daniels said. “That’s above me, it’s not my decision, but of course I wanted to go for it.”
Although the Sun Devils found the end zone twice late in the fourth quarter, it did little more than put some window dressing on a truly ugly loss. They were shutout for 29 of 30 first half minutes, and every meaningful minute of the second half. Turnovers, penalties, and the inability to cash in on a big play rendered the ASU offense useless.
“There’s gonna be no new offense, no new defense, we aren’t revolutionizing anything,” Edwards said. “It’s the players, we have to execute.”
Arizona State has a big problem. With one of the most talented rosters in the Pac-12, a puzzling inconsistency, a lack of discipline, and failure to show up in the big moment time and time again has plagued them in the worst of ways. It’s an indictment on the program as a whole, and specifically the head coach. An era that once held tremendous promise has been tainted by a pending recruiting investigation and the inability to produce on the field enough to distract from it. At 5-3, Arizona State is in better shape than tons of teams throughout the country, but the outlook sure seems bleak even with that reality.
“There is a lot to play for, we can’t lose sight of that,” Edwards said when asked about his team’s mindset moving forward. “With another win we become bowl eligible, and if you win enough of them, bowl games become bigger. We gotta find a way to win a game, so our players feel good, our coaches feel good, and the fans can feel good too when we win.”