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November 29, 2009With about five minutes remaining in the 83rd installment of the Territorial Cup, a light rain begin to fall upon the parched land that has been desperately craving any sort of moisture for the better part of 2009.
By the time ASU wide receiver Kyle Williams muffed a fair catch call on a punt return with 1:02 left, tiny bits of ice were scattered across the playing field at Sun Devil Stadium.
The nature of the elements throughout the latter part of the 4th quarter could not have paralled the ASU football season much more appropriately; the offense seemingly frozen in their own territory for the majority of the Pac-10 season, and the sustained drives that the Devils constantly yearn for often arriving far too scantily.
After sleepwalking through much of the first half (a game plan staple during the Dennis Erickson era), the disappointing number of nearly 56,000 in attendance watched the Devils claw back in the game due in large part to the aid of a shockingly unlikely source in senior quarterback Danny Sullivan, whose frequency of solid performances have also mirrored that of the precipitation patterns in Tempe of late.
With the help of a stellar offensive line performance that repeatedly opened up holes for running back Dimitri Nance -- also playing in his last game as a Sun Devil -- Sullivan threaded two passes just out of the outstretched arms of the Wildcat secondary and into the clutches of Williams, the latter of which coming on a 4th-and-14 which knotted the game at 17 with just over a two minutes to play.
However, those same hands, unsure throughout the four year career for the undersized receiver, let the Sun Devils down in his final career punt return attempt and led to the game winning field goal by Alex Zendejas as time expired.
Erickson's icy glare after the kick could only leave ASU fans to ponder about the future of their program under heralded head coach. Hailed as an offensive mastermind all through his career, Erickson's play-calling has been about as arid as the Sonoran Desert this season. Rarely productive halfback screens, running plays that show very little diversity, and the lack of discipline that runs rampant across the entire team has become increasingly evident in each passing game and are further affirmed by the showering of boos that seem to have progressively infected ASU fans since the loss to Texas in the 2007 Holiday Bowl.
Despite being arguably the most notable figure to ever head a sports program at Arizona State, Erickson will reach the (not so) ripe age of 63 next March and find himself squarely on the hot seat in the year ahead after just three seasons on the job.
With rumors of apathetic recruiting effort from a few notable assistants who have followed him nearly every step of the way, one has to wonder if Erickson views Tempe simply as a place to retire with so many who have aided him along the numerous stops he has taken as a head coach. True or false, the ingenuity, consistency, adaptability, and flexibility that Erickson has so often demonstrated seem to have left him. Because of his reputation and the impressive collection of young talent he has assembled, he'll very likely get at least one more attempt to rectify the current circumstances.
As he headed into the tunnel for the final team this season, the rain clouds that ensconced the desert sky perfectly illustrated the onerous task ahead for the man who finds himself squarely in the eye of yet another stormy situation.