“Taylor Kelly hits Kevin Ozier across the middle for the 12-yard pitch and catch for the Arizona State touchdown.”
It’s what you should have heard Tim Healey say on the radio, it’s what Todd Blackledge should have said on ESPN but that is too easy. This is the Pac-12 championship game where rose-colored red blinds normally sane and logical coaching decisions.
Taylor Kelly completed an 11-yard pass to Kevin Ozier to the Stanford one-yard line. If Ozier makes one more push, if Kelly leads Ozier one more foot, if Ozier makes one larger stride, if Ed Reynolds doesn’t out-will Ozier for the tackle, then the Sun Devils pull within 10 points with the score 31-21 heading into the fourth quarter where anything can happen.
Instead, Mike Norvell and Todd Graham elected to put Michael Eubank, second-string quarterback known for his placement in goal line situations and apparently season-impacting plays, into the game on third down. What happened next stuffed the noses of Sun Devils everywhere who were no longer smelling roses.
“We knew what was coming,” Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said after the game.
I knew what was coming, you knew what was coming, my 77-year-old grandmother knew what was coming. Eubank attempted a quarterback sneak on third down, was stuffed by Skov. That was followed by a De’Marieya Nelson rush on fourth down that only made it back to the line of scrimmage.
“On fourth down, we’ve seen them in the red zone,” Skov said. “They have a tendency to run pass, like the power play or sneak, so that second play they reloaded the tight ends.”
Not only do the odds say run, they scream it. But to insert a player who has no experience in big games to decide not only if ASU scores a touchdown, but asking Eubank to keep the team’s Rose Bowl chances alive isn’t only not fair to Eubank, it’s not fair to Taylor Kelly and to the rest of the ASU offense who worked hard on the field all season to get them to that very spot.
It wasn’t easy to drive the length of the field but the Sun Devils could have had a chance to win the football game in the fourth quarter. Would they have won? No one knows but it would have given the Sun Devils a fighting chance not to mention all the momentum in the world.
“You’ve got to be able to make a yard and we didn’t,” Graham said. “It’s all about getting into the end zone or not and willing yourself in there.”
Graham went on to say it’s not about the play call.
He is correct; it’s about the personnel on the field. Taylor Kelly would have willed this team into the end zone. Kelly had enough anger and frustration from not only the last loss to Stanford but the journey he has led this team on over the past two seasons to put the ball forward three feet into the end zone.
“I’m ultimately responsible, and I think when you’re down there you’ve got to be able to make an inch,” Graham said. “We had a quarterback sneak and we should have gotten in there, but we didn’t.”
This is a hypothetical situation but one can’t help but think that seeing number 10 instead of number nine under center might have changed things for the Sun Devils.