Tempe, Ariz. — Arizona State head coach Todd Graham began his postgame press conference with an opening statement that lasted 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
Of all the rambling (and don’t worry, this was not Billy Madison-type stuff), one thing the first-year Sun Devil boss said really stood out:
“We were dominated by a team that was a lot better than us,” Graham said.
He’s absolutely right.
While just one game separated the teams in the standings going into Thursday night’s contest, most rational observers (read: not Sun Devil homers) knew there was a greater gap between them on the field.
After all, there’s a reason Oregon is ranked 2nd in the AP Poll and 3rd in the BCS standings while Arizona State couldn’t crack the top 25 in either. They had each played weak schedules up to this point, but history gave the Ducks the benefit of the doubt.
And now, ASU fans, you should give your coach and his staff the same courtesy.
This loss, as disappointing as it may be, should not really come as a shock. A reality check, maybe, but at the end of the day this was not a game anyone penciled in as a “W” when looking at the schedule before the season began.
And hey, for the first 1:12 the Sun Devils looked every bit Oregon’s equal. Then Oregon started to play like, well, Oregon.
The Ducks are on a level the Sun Devils can only hope to reach. They turned a 7-0 deficit into a comfortable lead before many people could even take their seats, and when the teams went to the locker room the score was 43-7 and the game was all but over.
That Arizona State outscored the Ducks 14-0 in the second half means absolutely nothing. If Oregon needed to score, they would have scored. If Oregon needed a stop, they’d get a stop.
It’s what they do. To everyone.
So when you look at this game it is important to realize the Sun Devils are not this bad. Taylor Kelly, who entered the game as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, is not a guy who will throw for 93 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions every game. And the defense, which was highly-ranked before the game, will not allow 454 yards of total offense against the likes of UCLA and Washington State.
Unless defensive tackle Will Sutton is out for a while, in which case all bets are off.
The point is, Arizona State is not as bad as they appeared Thursday night at Sun Devil Stadium. They’re also not as good as the 5-1 start to the season they may have made some believe.
The Sun Devils are something in between — likely a seven, eight-win team — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at this point in the Todd Graham era.
What can separate Graham from his predecessor is how his squad responds to this demoralizing loss. Last season, after going to Eugene and losing to the Ducks, the Devils responded by beating a lousy Colorado team before losing their final five games.
Unfortunately for Arizona State, the price of a cushy first half schedule is a daunting second half slate.
The next three games are all against teams that can beat the Sun Devils, and two of them are on the road. Beat an interesting UCLA team next week and the world is right again. Lose to them — and then to Oregon State and USC — and memories of last year’s collapse will surely resurface.
That will not happen if the change Graham has been credited with bringing to the Sun Devils is in fact here to stay. The Sun Devils stayed disciplined even while Thursday’s game got away from them, which is absolutely a good sign. They fought until the end, but not after the whistle.
The Sun Devils may not be a better team than the Oregon Ducks, but now is their chance to prove they are improving.
And that’s all any reasonable fan can ask for.