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Familiar pattern pops up in ASU’s latest loss to Stanford

Arizona State's Eno Benjamin gets tackled by Stanford's Michael Williams during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State Sun Devils have the consistency thing down, and in their case, it’s not a good thing.

Herm Edwards’ team suffered its fourth loss in its last five games, this one a hard-fought 20-13 defeat at the hands of Stanford at a sparsely populated Sun Devil Stadium Thursday night.

Trailing 20-6 in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Manny Wilkins capped a six-play, 64-yard drive with a rugged 10-yard touchdown run to make it a one-touchdown game.

The Sun Devils (3-4, 1-3) had a chance to tie or win at the end, taking over at their own 15-yard line with 2:20 to play. Lacking a timeout, Wilkins took a sack on first down, but bounced back to drive ASU all the way down to the Stanford 20-yard line.

Facing a 2nd-and-10 with seven seconds left, Wilkins felt pressure, and dumped off a short pass in the middle of the field to running back Eno Benjamin, who was tackled for a two-yard gain as time expired, handing the Devils their fourth loss by exactly seven points this year.

“They had a free rusher on me,” Wilkins explained. “In my head, I knew not to take a sack, so I should have thrown it at Eno’s feet, but I threw it at his chest and he caught it.

“Just poor football clock management and spatial awareness on my part.”

Wilkins also beat himself up for two uncharacteristic turnovers which hurt Arizona State.

“I pride myself on taking care of the football and two turnovers on my part is completely inexcusable,” he said.

Wilkins had the Devils near midfield, leading 3-0 with about eight-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter. On a second down play, Wilkins ran for seven yards, but linebacker Bobby Okereke forced a fumble that was recovered by Thomas Booker. Stanford turned that into points when Jet Toner booted a 21-yard field goal to tie the game.

The next ASU turnover had nothing to do with Wilkins. In a 3-3 game late in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Rob Likens dialed up a trick play, but receiver N’Keal Harry’s flea-flicker pass intended for Kyle Williams (on a first down at the Stanford 31, no less) was picked off by linebacker Sean Barton, thwarting a potential scoring drive.

Stanford would then go on a methodical 12-play, 76-yard drive that extinguished the rest of the half and ended in a 31-yard field goal by Jet Toner that gave the Cardinal a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Cardinal would create a little comfort space with back-to-back touchdowns in the third. First, quarterback K.J. Costello hit J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who beat ASU corner Chase Lucas, on a 28-yard touchdown strike. On their next possession, the Cardinal got a 1-yard touchdown run from Cameron Scarlett to build a 20-6 lead.

In the fourth, Wilkins was picked off at the Stanford 26-yard line by Paulson Adebo, just the second interception of the quarterback all year.

While Wilkins was visibly emotional after the game, his head coach was a little more philosophical.

“Well, if I had the formula, I’d feed it to them, but I don’t have it right now,” Edwards said, referring to ASU’s pattern of coming up short late. “I like their effort, I know that. They play hard, they do.

“It’s never over for these kids. They keep fighting no matter how bad it looks.”

That “keep fighting” attitude will potentially serve the Sun Devils well in a difficult two-game stretch that takes them to Los Angeles to battle resurgent USC before returning home to take on a physical Utah squad on Nov. 3.

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