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ESPN’s May: Tough to say ASU players quit in Territorial Cup loss

Brandon Dawkins rushes against Arizona State in Tucson on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Associated Press)
LISTEN: Mark May, ESPN College Football Analyst

By all accounts, the Arizona State Sun Devils should have knocked off the University of Arizona Wildcats last Friday.

Though they had entered the game losers of five straight, ASU was facing an opponent who had lost eight consecutive games, and not even so much as held a lead since early October. The Wildcats were ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in points allowed and were firmly in last place in points scored.

They were a bad team. A really bad team. But last Friday, the Sun Devils were worse.

Arizona took the lead on the third play from scrimmage when QB Brandon Dawkins took off on a 71-yard touchdown run, and though the Sun Devils tied the game about six minutes later, they quickly fell behind 28-7.

The score was 28-14 at the half, though, and after ASU put together a nine-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter and bring the score to 28-21, it seemed as though the game might be evening out.

However, the Sun Devils were outscored 28-14 the rest of the way, with the Wildcats needing only 12 plays to score four more touchdowns. Arizona did not throw a pass the entire second half, and finished the game with a school record 511 rushing yards.

So, how did that happen? How did a struggling Arizona State team get blown out by an even worse UA squad? One popular theory is, quite simply, the Devils quit.

“That’s a tough one to say the kids quit on the program and quit on the team,” ESPN NCAA Football analyst Mark May told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday. “If that situation, if that word gets out and that has some truth to that, they’ve got major issues and Todd Graham has major issues.

“Because that right there can tear down a program in an instant, if that’s the truth.”

It would not be fair to assume the Sun Devils lost the way they did because they weren’t trying because, after all, sometimes teams just get beat. Some of the problems that felled them last Friday were an issue all season, specifically the penchant for giving up big plays.

In the game, the Wildcats posted six plays of at least 50 yards, as the Sun Devils could not contain Arizona’s running game. Dawkins finished with 184 yard and two touchdowns on 12 carries, whereas receiver-turned-running back Samajie Grant tallied 176 yards and three scores on 19 runs. Backup running back Zach Green collected 126 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

Suffice to say, it was a dreadful defensive performance in a season filled with them.

“They stomped ’em good; they did a great job of just running it right down their throat,” May said. “And when you look at it from the outside looking in, you can think that (the players quit), but unless there’s some verification or if one of the players, it leaks out, that’s a tough one to prove.”

May added rivalry game craziness could account for what transpired, but still, with bowl eligibility on the line, you had to figure the Sun Devils would come out looking better than they did. Whether they did not because they simply laid an egg or because they did not really care, that’s a question that can be debated.

“Here’s the thing: If you can’t motivate your kids for a game like this, then you’ve got some issues,” May said. “For those kids to lay down like that, it was like, the poor tackling, the lack of effort, that’s what really concerned me.”

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