Nov. 23, 2012; Tucson, AZ, USA: Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. The Sun Devils defeated the Wildcats 41-34. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

ASU Football Week 9 Highlights: No Easy Answers

Fresh out of the frying pan that was Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday afternoon, this writer had the unenviable task of breaking down ASU’s heart-breaking 45-43 loss to UCLA. It’s always easier to prepare a game summary when your team has won—regardless, I took up the task of analyzing this important Pac-12 match-up, which ended with a dramatic game-winning field goal by the Bruins.

Don’t bother looking for scapegoats. In sports, tradition dictates that we find scapegoats whenever there’s a disappointing loss. Coaches single out players, players find fault with officials, and fans point their finger at anyone and everyone. Sometimes, however, there are no easy answers—with plenty of blame to go around.

Against the Bruins, Arizona State Head Coach Todd Graham and his staff were faced with assembling a patchwork defensive line to counter one of the West Coast’s most dangerous offensive attacks. And they had to elevate an under-performing Sun Devil receiving corps, as well as a field goal unit that has struggled all season long. The result: a three-point loss at the hands of a tough UCLA squad fighting for the Pac-12 South lead.

In my opinion, ASU’s defeat was due to an overall lack of depth, inexperience at a few key positions, and a several untimely (and perhaps ill-advised) decisions on both sides of the ball. It hardly represented a wholesale smiting by the football gods. Let’s give the blame game a rest for the time being.

Put your 11 best players on the field. I’ll be honest: I love everything about Todd Graham’s approach at Arizona State. From his emphasis on discipline and character, to a “high octane” offensive strategy and aggressive in-state recruiting, Graham has been like a breath of fresh air in a parched cactus garden since his arrival in the Valley of the Sun.

Still, I’m a little perplexed by some recent decisions regarding Sun Devil personnel. Consider…

Since the beginning of the 2012 season, D.J. Foster and Marion Grice have proven to be ASU’s two leading weapons out of the backfield. Yet, senior RB Cameron Marshall continues to see extended playing time. Marshall, despite a productive college career, simply does not have the ability to break tackles and blow up plays like Foster and Grice. The same type of comparison can be made between all-purpose veteran Jamal Miles and speedy WR Rashad Ross when it comes to the kick returner job.

It’s nice to recognize seniority and service to your team, but it’s the coaching staff’s responsibility to ensure the 11 best players are on the field at all times.

Function over fashion when it comes to uniforms. If ASU fans must lay blame for the UCLA loss at the feet of an individual, I suggest they look for the wiseacre who made the Sun Devils’ uniform selection. Some time ago, Arizona State’s athletic department asked students to choose one of three possible uniform combinations for the homecoming game vs. UCLA. Problem was, two of the three choices included black helmets and jerseys.

Yes—black uniforms for the home team on an 86-degree day with blazing sunshine. Meanwhile, UCLA looked cool and composed in their white visitors attire.

It’s easy to excuse the uniform selection by claiming Saturday’s 12 noon start time was a last-minute decision predicated on television coverage. How could the athletic department be at fault? But at this point in the season, it doesn’t take a genius to know that two teams battling for first place in the conference might make an inviting TV match-up. Better to have offered the students uniform choices involving gold or white helmets only than risk roasting your team on a hot October afternoon in the desert.

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