ASU looks for redemption and bowl berth

Alden Darby celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown against USC. ASU lost the game 38-17. (Connor Radnovich/DD)

This is what we expected.

Tomorrow, ASU faces what should be the final victim in their road to a bowl game this season. Washington State (2-8, 0-7) comes into the game losers of seven straight, including to Colorado – the Buffaloes lone win of the season.

In short, the Devils should dominate the Cougars at Sun Devil Stadium.

Unfortunately, the game is overshadowed by the last couple weeks of struggle. ASU is currently on a four-game skid, including a heartbreaking home loss to UCLA and an arguably winnable game at Oregon State.

The losing streak came at the worst time for Todd Graham’s squad. The Devils were winners of three straight and 5-1 before their first conference loss to Oregon. If it weren’t for a close loss at Missouri, Graham would have led his new team to bowl eligibility in his first six games as head coach – the minimum it takes to get there.

Unfortunately, though, ASU hasn’t been able to find that same mojo that had them averaging over 41 points per game to start the year.

Most of it was to be expected. Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC were pretty much penciled in as losses to begin the year. Washington State was penciled in as a win, and Arizona was a toss up (like all rivalry games).

What is certainly frustrating, though, is the on-field progression these last few weeks. A couple mental lapses within 90 seconds cost the Devils a victory over UCLA. An injury to their star Will Sutton against Oregon led to a blowout. A tremendous defensive performance against USC was coupled with a terrible outing by the offense. Taylor Kelly has thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions over the last four games.

It seems like the sky is falling. But, is it really?

Let’s all be honest… no one expected much out of this team to begin with. Competing for a bowl game was the goal at the forefront of everyone’s mind. With all the moving parts of a new coach, new system and just a couple returning starters, 6-6 would be something to be proud of.

That’s what this team is on pace for right now.

When you take a step back, things are really looking up. ASU has a freshman quarterback that, while not perfect, has shown flashes of greatness. The backfield has been outstanding, with critical contributions from a Junior College transfer (Marion Grice) and a true freshman (D.J Foster). The defense, especially against USC, looked like they had the ability to play at a premier level. With the emergence of Jon Mora and Kelly’s kicking ability, even special teams have shown promise.

So, for all you Sun Devil fans that are getting a little impatient: relax. This is a program that deserves some patience for once. They may break your hearts from time to time, but as mentioned in the column before Oregon, this program is going in a direction you can believe in. It may be a bumpy ride, but know the destination is likely a good one.

Sometimes, when everything seems like it’s going wrong, it’s tough to see the forest through the trees. But when you take a step and look at the season as a whole, things are going the way we all hoped: with a chance to be bowl eligible.

It obviously isn’t a done deal. ASU lost last year’s game to Washington State in a ‘sure win’ game, albeit on the road. If the Devils do win, though, it will give way to their second straight bowl game.

This season hasn’t always been pretty. What is has been is what we hoped to see.

At this point, that’s all you really could have asked for.