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They’re going streaking: Anatomy of ASU’s losing skid

Another trip to Los Angeles, another loss.

The Arizona State Sun Devils’ 38-17 loss to the 19th-ranked USC Trojans really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, it was the Devils’ seventh straight loss at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

And after seeing the Devils come crashing down to Earth following a 5-1 start, many are comparing this season to last — when Arizona State stormed to a 6-2 start and sat in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South before dropping their final four regular season games to finish 6-6.

I disagree; this campaign is beginning to look a lot like every season since 2008.

That’s right — the Sun Devils, in each of the last five seasons, have had a losing streak of at least three games.

Let’s relive the pain, shall we?

2008 – After starting the year 2-0, the Sun Devils were stunned 23-20 in overtime by a bad UNLV team. That set the stage for subsequent losses to Georgia, California, Oregon and Oregon State. Six-game skid. Final record 5-7.

2009 – Remember Danny Sullivan’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Chris McGaha with :05 left that shocked Washington? That win pushed the Devils’ record to 4-2. That would be the last time they’d win. Six straight defeats later, ASU finished 4-8.

2010 – Arizona State got off to a 2-0 start with back-to-back wins over Big Sky foes Portland State and Northern Arizona, but that was followed by consecutive losses to Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State. Final record: 6-6.

2011 – After a 48-14 homecoming win over Colorado, the Sun Devils were 6-2. Then defense, discipline and accountability disappeared and the Devils lost five straight, including an embarrassing 56-24 loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Final record: 6-7.

Yup, that’s five straight years with a losing streak of three or more games. The only other teams in the conference (not counting Utah and Colorado) that can be saddled with that “distinction” are Washington and Washington State, and that’s not the company ASU should be keeping.

That brings us to the present. The Sun Devils looked like a completely different football team over the first six weeks of the season. They played hard, clean, disciplined football. Only a slow start and some failed execution near the goal line late in the Missouri game stood between Arizona State and a perfect record heading into the much-anticipated matchup with Oregon on October 18.

But since then, the Sun Devils have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. No, they still don’t commit a lot of penalties. The difference is the penalties they’ve committed during this skid have been killers. In the first quarter of the UCLA game alone, ASU committed two defensive penalties on third and fourth down plays that they had stopped. Both extended drives that ended in Bruins touchdowns. In the second quarter, a holding penalty nullified a Taylor Kelly touchdown pass and ASU had to settle for a field goal. Yes, they got on the board, but that four-point swing was a killer. ASU lost by two.

Late in the second quarter of the Oregon State game the Sun Devil defense had seemingly forced a stop on a third down, but Brandon Magee was flagged for roughing the passer, extending the drive. Seven plays later, Oregon State’s Trevor Romaine kicked a 45-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half to tie the score at 19-19.

In the second quarter of the USC game, a pass interference call on, you guessed it — a third down — extended a Trojans drive that ended in a Matt Barkley to Xavier Grimble touchdown pass that tied the score at 14-14.

The defense, which was such a strong point early in the season, has been victimized during the losing streak — mostly in the rushing category. The ASU defense has allowed an average of exactly 250 yards per game on the ground and Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, Oregon State’s Terron Ward and USC’s Curtis McNeal all ran for 135 yards or more against them.

Big plays have been an issue for the defense as well. During the streak, the Devils have allowed seven touchdowns of 49 yards or longer, and at least one each game.

And the offense isn’t getting off the hook here, either. In their last six quarters, the Sun Devils have mustered only 408 total yards, scored just 17 points and committed four turnovers (and another on special teams).

Play calling? Don’t get me started. From the end zone pass that was intercepted right before halftime against UCLA to the third-and-two pass out of the backfield from a backup quarterback to a defensive end (yes, you read that right) against USC, it’s been curious to say the least.

With two games remaining, the Sun Devils and their fans just want to remember what a victory feels like.

“We’ve come up four games in a row, and we’ve got to go get a win,” ASU coach Todd Graham said Monday during his weekly press conference.

With a 2-8 Washington State team coming to town, it’s entirely possible that the Sun Devils will get one. A win would give ASU bowl eligibility and a shot at a winning record all while washing most of the taste of a four-game losing streak out of the mouths of its fans.

A loss would…never mind, let’s not think about what another loss would do.