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Lipstick won’t help cover gap between ASU and Stanford

Comebacks show character.

They do not show if you’re a good team or not.

The only term that can be used is butt whooping. Arizona State is not close to the level Stanford is currently at. Was there some bad officiating? Yes. Were there some bad coaching decisions? Yes. Does either of those two things matter? No.

Stanford is simply a much better program at this point than Arizona State. The players play better. The players know what’s expected from their coaches better. The coaches coach them better.

A lot will be written, read and said about Arizona State’s comeback. It was impressive to show that the kids’ character is strong. There are a lot of positives when a team has the fight to come back from a complete thrashing in the first half. None of those positives, however, mean that ASU accomplished something to “build” on. The positives reflect the people that play for ASU but not how they played. There’s a major difference.

In sports leagues where everyone wins a trophy, this was a special second half. At the Division I level, don’t waste your time. Our society has become so weak that we celebrate great character stories instead of expect them. I’m proud the Sun Devils showed some fight, but they came back against a checked out opponent. Obviously, it’s better than the alternative — to find out you have a bunch of kids that will cower when they get punched in the mouth — but don’t let it sugar coat that ASU got blown out.

Stanford quit playing football. They went to their back-up quarterback. They stopped throwing the football altogether. Stanford players played like they wrapped the game up and just couldn’t muster the passion they had to start the game. Stanford prides itself on physically whipping you at the line of scrimmage. It takes intensity, focus and fight to do what Stanford does. They didn’t have that in the second half so I can’t get excited or read much into ASU’s comeback. I came to Stanford knowing the Cardinal were better and knew the Arizona State program was full of character people. I left knowing the exact same thing.

ASU can still go 4-1 in this tough stretch to start the season and still has a chance to go to Stanford again — or visit Oregon or Washington once — for the Pac-12 Championship. If they accomplish those goals, it shows they learned something from this game. I will never believe they learned they can compete with Stanford. Right now the answer to that is “no, they can’t.”

The thing they may have learned is what it takes to compete at a championship level. You can have your secretary answer the phone by saying you will be the Pac-12 champions. You can chant “BCS” on the practice field. None of it matters if your kids are overwhelmed by the moment.

I hope ASU left Palo Alto not trying to make a lot about different elements of the game. I don’t care about the individual teaching moments of this game. Arizona State needs to take a “macro” level view.

I do believe that little things lead to big things, but sometimes that view can be myopic. It’s clear that there was not a championship-level focus from every level of the program. That needs to be fixed before you worry about how many defenders are on the field on a fourth down.

It doesn’t matter how much lipstick was on the pig before it got slaughtered. Stanford still ate ASU’s bacon.