ASU travels to Oregon with hopes of securing Pac-12 Championship

With two games remaining on the schedule, ASU heads to Oregon hoping to escape with a victory

Over the last few weeks, the sun has shined on the Sun Devils, and with that said, ASU is looking to bring a different storm this weekend against the Oregon Ducks. 

"When you can storm the castle, you’ve got a chance. If you can’t storm the castle, then it’s going to be a long day,” coach Herm Edwards said poetically.

The metaphor is meant to describe ASU’s strategy this week against Oregon Ducks' junior quarterback Justin Herbert, serving as a game plan for the entire ASU team as they prepare to storm the castle known as Autzen Stadium this Saturday when they face the 6-4 Ducks. 

“Everyone knows what’s at stake,” sophomore running back Eno Benjamin said. “In the locker room and just walking around the building, everyone knows what’s at stake.”

ASU remains on the precipitous of something truly special, a Pac-12 championship game berth in a season many declared over just a few weeks ago. After a crushing home loss to the Stanford Cardinal on Oct. 18, one that marked their fourth straight defeat by exactly seven points, spirits could not have been lower. 

The offense looked discombobulated, and the defense was unable to get stops when they needed them most. Since then, ASU has looked like a completely different team, ripping off three straight victories, including a thrilling come-from-behind victory against the USC Trojans in the Coliseum. 

"We’ve all kind of figured it out, and we’re all working hard because it’s right there," redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Darby said. "We have the opportunity, and we control our own destiny. We could go out, win these next two games and make some history.” 

A trip to Levi’s Stadium for the Pac-12 Championship game would mark only the second time ASU has reached the game in the Pac-12 era and could mark the first outright conference championship for the Sun Devils since 1996. While the championship game remains priority No. 1, the fact ASU earned bowl eligibility with their win last season is a huge accomplishment and one coach Edwards certainly doesn’t take lightly 

“There’s something about being a bowl team,” Edwards said. “... I think it’s critical in the fact that (as) a first-year head coach with a new staff, you have this vision of where you’re trying to go and what you’re trying to become; it gives you some opportunities to bring along some more young players to coach. But also it says something that this is a team that is hopefully trending the right direction. And it’s good for the players, especially the seniors.”

Last week’s win was an emotional one for ASU football seniors, who walked out of Sun Devil Stadium's Tillman Tunnel for the final time.

For no one was it more difficult than redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins, whose tumultuous journey at ASU has been well-documented and highly-criticized. 

His performance on Saturday wasn’t his crispest, finishing with 199 yards through the air with one touchdown and one interception, but he gave ASU a chance to win when it mattered most. This is a game Wilkins would have probably lost for the Sun Devils in past seasons, but his growth as a player and as a man has brought him to a place few could have expected.  

“The thing I was most pleased with was our ability to not fold when we threw the pick six,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “That was a fork in the road with the team’s character and maturity, and it looks like we took the right turn when that happened, especially Manny. For him to go out and take them on a scoring drive to just kind of like erase that was huge, and probably won us the game.” 

With just two games remaining, the stage is set for a record-setting season for the Sun Devils. Their preseason goals, no matter how lofty they appeared at the time, are still in reach and their chance at Pac-12 glory remains there for the taking. The question is whether or not they will grasp it. 

“I feel like our focus is on another level,” said Darby. “We’ve all been practicing harder, everybody running through everything. We all know it’s right there, and we have to go grab it.”  


Reach the reporter at Jrosenfa@asu.edu or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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