Saturday’s game encapsulates ASU football’s lost season
TEMPE, Ariz. – On the surface, everything looked normal.
If you were driving toward the Arizona State campus on Saturday night, you saw light traffic, some random construction and students wandering around dressed in maroon and gold. The image of Sun Devil Stadium lit up the night, reflecting brightly off Tempe Town Lake. It was almost like a football game was going on inside.
Actually, a football game was going on inside. ASU’s first home game since Nov. 30, 2019.
That contest a year ago had been a Territorial Cup win over the University of Arizona and the crowd made its presence felt all game – the way crowds do when their rival is being vanquished. The place was packed and loud the week before that as well, when the Devils stunned No. 6 Oregon in a 31-28 thriller.
Walking inside Sun Devil Stadium tonight was a sharp reminder that this is still 2020. ASU and UCLA played in front of an empty stadium, with a few cardboard cutouts and a couple friends and family members scattered around a venue that was meant to hold about 54,000 fans. The only sounds were music, fake crowd noise and players yelling.
Not the dream scenario, but still a step up from the last few weeks, when ASU had no games. And the only real option for now.
The Devils started slow and looked like a team that hadn’t played in a month, falling 25-18. Head coach Herm Edwards acknowledged after the game that the offense was rusty and attributed penalties to that long absence without games. The Bruins’ top weapon, Demetric Felton, barely even played until the last drive because of an injury he suffered last week. But that’s almost secondary here.
The bigger picture in Tempe is that this is a lost season for Arizona State. And it’s one that once held a lot of promise.
A year ago at this time, the Sun Devils were getting ready for a Sun Bowl matchup with Florida State. They had just knocked off the Wildcats to run their record to 7-5 in Edwards’ second season as coach, with a growing excitement that the best was yet to come.
Jayden Daniels was poised to set the Pac-12 on fire as a sophomore in 2020. The defense that Edwards and Antonio Pierce were building finally had some experience to match its talent, and ASU was already reloading with a new group of highly touted recruits on top of that. Sun Devil fans had every reason to be fired up, because nobody really knew what this group’s ceiling was.
Then things much bigger than football happened. And not just in Tempe, across the entire planet. So as it turns out, we still don’t know this group’s ceiling.
Saturday night was a brief respite from all that. If we’re speaking strictly in football terms, few college programs have felt the sting of the pandemic more than the Sun Devils. This was just their second game of the season, and Christmas is less than three weeks away. They should have a dozen games on their resume by now with a bowl game on the horizon. Instead, they’re hoping for one more game after a trip to Tucson next week.
That’s four games – at best – in a season that was supposed to be so much more. Not four wins, mind you. Four games.
In a year where everyone is compromising, though, that will have to do. Most ASU fans have already shifted their optimism to 2021, hoping for some normalcy off the field while something extraordinary plays out on it. Tonight didn’t offer a win, but at least it offered some football.
And that’s something this stadium hadn’t seen in a long time.