When the ASU football team lined up at midfield with 13 seconds left, the collective thoughts of everyone watching in person and on a national television broadcast were fixed on one thing: overtime.
Nobody thought ASU senior quarterback Danny Sullivan had that “big-play” capability that runs through the veins of players like the man on the opposite sideline, Jake Locker, who will likely be a top pick in next year’s draft.
Nobody thought an ailing Chris McGaha, who missed practice all week with the flu, would be a likely candidate for a pass that would infuse life into the postseason aspirations of a team that many had pegged for dead.
But when Sullivan dropped back and slithered through a UW pass rush to avoid being sacked, the unthinkable happened.
McGaha ran a seam route to the goal line — but nobody was running with him.
He was all alone, and Sullivan’s opportunity to woo the ASU faithful back into his corner presented itself on a silver platter.
“I couldn’t believe it; could not believe it,” Sullivan said to himself during the play. “Oh my God, [McGaha] is that wide open.”
His coach could not believe it either.
The play was designed to go to the receivers on the outsides, who were running comeback routes to set up a potential game-winning field-goal attempt.
Instead, ASU coach Dennis Erickson looked like a genius when the Huskies’ safety tried to jump the comeback route, leaving the door wide open for the two seniors to connect on a pass that will not be soon forgotten in Tempe.
It was one of a few plays that Erickson dialed up that were a refreshing change from the almost predictable play calling that had been witnessed before Saturday’s game.
Wherever that playbook was hiding, he could not have found it at a more perfect time.
This team desperately needed some type of change, and it certainly had a different feel to it on Saturday.
Rhythm. Confidence. Fun.
The Sun Devils had it all and translated it into a victory against the Huskies.
And it all started with the man under center who had been trying to force plays instead of letting them just happen in recent weeks.
“I told myself, ‘Just be loose and throw,’” Sullivan said. “I haven’t done that. I’ve just been trying to think too much.”
It is hard not to think too much when you are booed in your own stadium, but Sullivan was finally able to do what quarterbacks do: Have a short memory and trust their skills. The rest will take care of itself.
Again, the defense was stellar, picking off one of the best quarterbacks in college football twice.
But this was the offense’s night.
This was Danny Sullivan’s night.
He was the reason the Sun Devils won the game.
And in one play, the boos evaporated into the evening air, and murmurs of a change at quarterback evolved into chants of, “Danny! Danny!”
It took six weeks for this team to find “it,” and now there are six weeks left in the 2009 season.
All of a sudden, ASU is tied for second place in the Pac-10, and what seemed like a season that was wilting is now beginning to blossom.
Reach Erik at email@example.com.