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October 4, 2009

Sun Devils fall flat in loss to Beavers

Following Saturday evening's game against Oregon State, Arizona State senior quarterback Danny Sullivan entered the press conference just like he had on a couple of previous occasions. But this time was different.

Limping, breathing heavy, head down, Sullivan just looked like a man defeated. And for good reason.

His team dropped its Pac-10 Conference opener in disappointing fashion, losing to the Beavers 28-17.

"In all the years I've been coaching I've had this happen, unfortunately, a lot of times," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "I don't think you ever see it coming."

From the get-go, one could sense this wasn't going to be ASU's night.

On their first drive, the Sun Devils went three-and-out, which was bad enough. But it got worse. Junior punter Trevor Hankins mishandled the snap on fourth down and was downed for a 10-yard loss at his own 18. Three plays later, OSU sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers scored from one yard out.

But that was just the beginning.

ASU's next drive was doomed by a muffed snap and errant throw before Rodgers scored from 32 yards out on OSU's next possession. In just more than five minutes, ASU was already in a 14-0 hole.

"Early in the game, for whatever reason, we weren't ready to play," Erickson said. "We didn't play with the enthusiasm and fire that we [usually] play with on defense. Football's a game of being ready to play. And if you're not ready to play, you get behind the eight ball and you're going to get beat. That's exactly what happened."

Aside from a 35-yard field goal from freshman kicker Bobby Wenzig, ASU's offense had nothing to show for its first-half effort. Penalties and missed opportunities ultimately led to the demise of ASU Saturday night.

OSU, meanwhile, kept pouring it on. Senior quarterback Sean Canfield connected with James Rodgers for a 25-yard score, just four plays after ASU senior defensive end Dexter Davis was flagged for a crucial roughing-the-passer penalty.

Following Canfield's touchdown toss, the Beavers held a commanding 21-3 lead.

"Right now, offensively, for us to come back like that is very, very difficult," Erickson said.

Of ASU's seven first-half drives, two ended in punts, two ended in turnovers and two ended on unsuccessful fourth-down plays. That's not a line that any team wants.

Fair or not, most of the criticism landed on the Sullivan's shoulders, loud and clear.

In the closing moments before half time, Sullivan overthrew senior wide receiver Chris McGaha on a 4th-and-4 from OSU's 29. That's about when thousands of fans started chanting, 'We-want-Brock, we-want-Brock,' clamoring for freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler.

Make no mistake, those cheers were heard down on the field by ASU's players. McGaha said he and his teammates were trying to keep Sullivan pumped up while the crowd ridiculed him.

Sullivan finished 32-of-58 for 338 yards, an interception and a futile touchdown. In four games this season, he has a 55.2 completion percentage, three touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 209.8 yards per game.

"I thought it went pretty well," Sullivan said of his performance. "That's all I'm going to go on that right now."

During his interview, Sullivan was understandably upset and his answers were brusque and terse.

After a reporter asked Sullivan to describe his emotions, Sullivan replied, "I don't want to speak my mind on that right now," before abruptly leaving.

Both McGaha and Erickson alike defended their quarterback and said Sullivan hasn't lost the control and confidence of the locker room.

"I definitely don't think the criticism [of Sullivan] is fair," McGaha said. "I mean, we can do stuff to help him out. I feel bad for him. I feel like he manages the game well, we just got to make plays for him … We're just shooting ourselves in the foot."

Following the game, Erickson tip-toed around the elephant in the room before confronting it head on.

"We've got to evaluate it," Erickson said of the quarterback position. "My gut feeling is, 'Yeah, [Sullivan will start at Washington State next week],' but I'm not afraid to … You know, it's easy for all us to sit here and blame it on him … But there's no question it goes beyond him."

Erickson said he never considered benching Sullivan for Osweiler at half, but Erickson did imply he thought about it later in the game.

Given its early struggles, ASU played from behind all game and was forced to pass much more than usual. Erickson said his team can't pass the ball as much as it did Saturday in order to be successful.

The second half got off to a promising start for ASU, as it put together a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive to pull within 21-10, but would never get any closer than that.


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