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ASU’s final 2 games may become evaluation of staff, personnel

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Ray Anderson stood in the south end zone of Sun Devil Stadium, his chin resting in his hand as he watched the final seconds tick off of Utah’s 49-26 win over Arizona State on Thursday night.

There was so much to ponder.

The Sun Devils had just lost their fourth straight game, matching the longest losing streak of the Todd Graham era, previously set in 2012, Graham’s first year in Tempe.

On the one hand, this season was supposed to be a struggle. The Sun Devils were introducing four new starters on the offensive line, a new quarterback and a revamped secondary. That 4-0 start was probably fool’s gold, but a rash of injuries to 10 starters made it impossible to say what might have been.

On the other hand, ASU’s defense has been awful all season, ranked 115th in scoring defense, 124th in the nation in total defense and dead last in passing defense while the team has allowed a staggering 14 touchdowns of 50 or more yards this season.

Utah quarterback Troy Williams passed for 296 yards and four touchdowns, running back Joe Williams rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and receiver Raelon Singleton had four catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns on Thursday.

“As a unit we just have not played well,” Graham said. “It’s just not making plays, especially on the vertical ball.”

So what should Anderson do? Does he insist on changes on defense, starting with defensive coordinator and longtime Graham buddy Keith Patterson, who has overseen two of the worst passing defenses in school history? Does he consider a guy like deposed Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter? Would such a change be a cosmetic makeover for a team whose personnel may not fit its scheme — a team that hasn’t shown the depth that should be present in the fifth year of a coach’s tenure?

Does he go the nuclear route and consider an expensive buyout of Graham, a coach who has greatly aided fundraising? Who will pay for that a buyout in the midst of Sun Devil Stadium’s costly renovation and the athletic department’s efforts to build a hockey arena for its second-year varsity program?

Those questions and more will occupy Anderson’s mind for the next two weeks, but the Sun Devils will likely travel to Tucson to face Arizona on Nov. 25 under the worst possible circumstances. Following a likely loss at No. 4 Washington next week, they will have lost five straight, they will have faced two straight physical teams and they could be facing an Arizona team with no Pac-12 wins, improving health and nothing left to lose — a team that views ruining ASU’s hopes for bowl eligibility as their personal bowl game.

Graham has called bowl eligibility the minimum expectation for his program. You’d have to think that Anderson’s threshold is a little bit higher.

“I absolutely hate losing,” Graham said. “There has been a lot of factors that contributed to that but it doesn’t do you any good to wallow in that. That was the 15th-ranked team in the country and I really think we could have beat them but woulda, shoulda, coulda doesn’t count.

“In the key areas where you can’t play poorly we played poorly when it counted … It’s frustrating.”

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