ASU football‘s 19-point comeback to defeat Arizona provided much more than just a victory for ASU, it provided a look into the team’s future under first-year head coach Herm Edwards.
We are still less than 24 hours removed from what will go down as one of the most improbable comebacks in Territorial Cup history.
The 93rd meeting between Arizona and Arizona State was largely bland for the first three quarters as U of A controlled every aspect of the game. The Wildcats led 40-21 going into the final quarter as hopes of a bowl berth were right in the grasp of first-year head Kevin Sumlin of Arizona.
What followed was 20 unanswered points by Arizona State stemming from two turnovers from what had been a very effective Arizona offense.
The interception and fumble recovery provided much more than needed points for ASU, it provided a look into the future of the program under their own first-year head coach Herm Edwards.
Ever since the hiring of Edwards, the college football world has been quick to criticize ASU athletic director Ray Anderson for the hire due to Edwards’ prolong absence from coaching.
During the season, the Sun Devils were surrounded by fair weather fans who jumped on to the Twitter famous “Herm Train” after a win over No. 15 Michigan State, and quickly hopped off when struggles arose.
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Throughout the constant criticism surrounding the team, Edwards led a talented Sun Devil roster under both a first-year offensive and defensive coordinator to a 7-5 record with all five losses coming within one score.
While this record and victory over Arizona match up with previous head coach Todd’s Graham’s regular season record a year ago, there is a sense of clarity heading forward for Arizona State that Graham established during his tenure.
This clarity gives the Sun Devils a clear path going forward of what their plan is in a variety of areas including recruiting, along with offensive and defensive philosophies.
On the recruiting trail, it’s turned to an extreme focus in the state of California and in-state recruiting, both areas that Graham struggled with during his time as head coach.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was a midseason change of focus to run the ball that both turned the season around and clear a path for the future of the offense under Rob Likens.
The change will benefit the Sun Devils going forward as the team will lose senior quarterback Manny Wilkins and will most likely lose star wideout N’Keal Harry to the NFL Draft. The one key returning piece for ASU will be sophomore Eno Benjamin who currently sits tied for third in the nation in total rushing yards at a mark of 1,524.
While the return of Benjamin next season will be key to the team’s success, it will be a young and now experienced defense that will pay the most dividends for Edwards.
Throughout the entire season, the Sun Devils have relied on a variety of true freshman to carry a defense that had inserted a unique 3-3-5 scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales. The result? A defense that has shown the potential to be one of the country’s best.
In the team’s Territorial Cup comeback, it was a pair of freshmen in defensive lineman Tyler Johnson and safety Aashari Crosswell that came up with the critical turnovers late in the game to complete the 19-point comeback.
Saturday night’s game and this past season was much more than just a final send-off for Wilkins and Harry, it was a glimpse into the future of the Sun Devils. A future that has proven bright behind the legs of Benjamin and the play of a young and promising defense.