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November 26, 2011As Arizona State Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love walked onto the field late in the fourth quarter, a smattering of remaining fans let her know their feelings. Many registered their opinions by not showing up at all.
The Sun Devils concluded their regular season collapse with a fourth straight loss Friday, 47-38 to California, in front of an announced 52,350 at Sun Devil Stadium - many thousands fewer were actually in attendance - in a game that will likely be coach Dennis Erickson's last at the school.
After starting 6-2, an extension for Erickson seemed a foregone conclusion, but the Sun Devils collapsed down the stretch to finish the regular season 6-6 and 4-5 in the Pac-12. A bowl game remains - perhaps the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 31, though that remains to be determined - but focus will be more on what happens with the leadership of the program moving forward than what happens in that game.
"I won't go any further to say that I will meet with Lisa next week," Erickson said. "We will sit down and talk about where the program is at . . . and see what's best for the football program. I've had a great five years here. I love it here. I'd like to stay here and finish the job."
Even as it entered the game on a three game losing streak, the Sun Devils had a chance going into Friday to earn a bid in the Pac-12 title game with a win over Cal coupled with a Utah win over Colorado and USC win over UCLA Saturday. But Colorado earned its first road win since 2007 against the Utes earlier in the day, ending ASU's hopes.
ASU's defense all but gave up in recent weeks, yielding an average of nearly 500 yards in the month of November. Friday, its signature player, junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict, sat on the bench for most of the fourth quarter as Cal added two field goals to put the game out of reach.
Earlier, Burfict drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties - one of which was offsetting - in a emblem of the group's on field disciplinary issues. ASU entered the game ranked 119 of 120 teams in penalty yards per game and had 11 penalties for 121 yards, a number of which enabled or killed drives, in the loss.
"He had a couple [penalties] and we just decided to let those other guys play," Erickson said.
The ASU offense held its share of the bargain Friday, with junior running back Cameron Marshall rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts, in doing so tying the school's single season record, and junior quarterback Brock Osweiler completing 21 of 37 attempts for 264 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"It hurts a lot just because we as a team worked so hard this off-season," Osweiler said. "I mean, there was a group of guys who didn't even go home for Christmas just to stay here to make sure this stuff didn't happen ever again in this program. To have [this] happen, it hurts."
The loss likely sealed Erickson's fate though he may have been gone regardless of what happened in the game. With one season left on his contract, the Sun Devils are 31-30 under his direction. This year, at one point it appeared they were close to breaking through but it all fell apart.
"We love Coach E," senior defensive tackle Bo Moos said. "Like I said before, obviously the blame is ultimately going to be put on him, but we don't feel like it should be. If that ends up being the case, then I'm just glad that this is my last year, because I wouldn't want to play for anyone else."
Others may have to.
"We just haven't been playing with confidence defensively the last month and I wish I could put my finger on it because I've really never experienced anything like it," Erickson said.