Arizona State came within two points this afternoon of slipping into the Top 25 national football rankings in its game against No. 11 Wisconsin.
In fact, if there was ever a team that lost a game, but deserved to move up in the rankings, it might be ASU.
By our calculations, the Sun Devils (2-1) could have been up at halftime by a score of 38-13 instead of being down, 13-10.
A dropped pass in the end zone, an 80-yard touchdown run that was called back for a blocking penalty, an obvious missed interference call on a pass caught in the end zone, and a 95-yard kickoff return that fell just a yard or two short of the end zone.
That’s 28 points that didn’t appear on the board.
Instead, Wisconsin got its ninth win out of 10 meetings with Pac-10 teams and the Badgers escaped with a 20-19 victory, their 27th consecutive against non-conference foes, to run their record to 3-0.
Even at the end, ASU couldn’t catch a break. But, at that point it was a matter of the Devils just shooting themselves in the foot.
They had a chance to tie it at 20-20, but a missed blocking assignment let the Badgers’ senior safety, Jay Valai, in to block the Thomas Weber point-after attempt following a two-yard TD run by Cameron Marshall. And, as Wisconsin worked to eat up the clock for the last few minutes, it was a personal foul with 3:17 remaining that gave the Badgers a first-and-10 instead of the third-and-long they would have been facing.
So, the bottom line is this game should have been put in the ‘W’ column. But instead, ASU gets its first loss of the young season – and a chance to knock off a ranked opponent. On the road, no less.
Like they say, ‘almost’ don’t feed the bulldog. A loss is a loss.
But for Dennis Erickson, it’s got to be a flash-back to last year’s nightmare of a season when the Devils lost four games by less than five points each time. He has to be thinking, “Here we go again.”
But there are many encouraging thoughts to take away from this one.
First off, last year’s team too often got off to slow starts and then were unable to muster the offensive drive necessary to get back in the game.
But not so this year. You got the feeling from watching this group that they were always in the game and could pull out a big play whenever necessary. The speed is there to break games wide open.
And they have a solid quarterback this year that is in control. Steven Threet matched up to one of the better signal callers in the Big Ten, Scott Tolzien.
Threet completed 21 of 33 pass attempts for 211 yards, while Tolzien finished 19-of-25 for 246 yards.
Threet, a transfer from University of Michigan, nearly pulled off the same kind of comeback effort he orchestrated against Wisconsin two years ago when he led the Wolverines to a win after they found themselves at a 19-point deficit.
And, Lord, do they have the speed. A 97-yard kick-off return for a score by Omar Bolden, coupled with an 80-yard score that was called back and a 95-yard kickoff return that fell just short of the goal line, kept fans on their feet throughout the game.
And then there was Deantre Lewis providing the explosiveness out of the backfield. The freshman running back rushed for 122 yards.
There were also doubts about the Sun Devils being able to match up with big, physical teams. Wisconsin didn’t have an offensive lineman under 311 pounds.
But it was players in red and white uniforms that were being helped off the field throughout the game. The Badgers suffered injuries to linebacker Chris Borland, 292 lb. defensive lineman JJ. Watt, and linebacker Culmer St. Jean. Watt was helped off twice.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the ASU program, and a step back for Erickson, who is trying to get this program back on track after two losing seasons.
But ASU showed it can play with the big boys. It just has to finish the job better than it did today.
(Photo: Wisconsin Athletics)