When Herm Edwards was named the 24th ASU Football head coach in December 2017, he was supposed to elevate the program to new heights.
When he was introduced, Vice President for University Athletics and Athletics Director Ray Anderson said the program needed consistency to become "the team nobody wants to play."
The consistency was there through six weeks of the 2021 season. The Sun Devils were as high as No. 18 in the Week 7 Associated Press poll with a 5-1 record.
But then it all came crashing down.
In a Week 7 matchup versus the University of Utah that decided the leader of the Pac-12 South, the Sun Devils allowed 28 unanswered points in the second half and lost 35-21.
After a bye week, ASU again allowed 28 unanswered points to start the game against Washington State University. ASU managed to fight back late and give the game a respectable score — 34-21 — but the damage had already been done.
From the final two quarters against Utah to the first two against Washington State, ASU was outscored 56-7.
Through the first nine weeks of the 2021 season, ASU's five wins came against teams with a combined 11-31 record.
The crowd of eager fans that had been proudly tweeting about the Sun Devils quickly became the same ones booing at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday afternoon against Washington State.
"Remember, I played in Philadelphia," Edwards said during a press conference. "The fans have a right to be angry, but the great part is they will be back this week hollering for the Sun Devils. We understand that. We never take it personally."
Though the optimism for many Sun Devil fans slowly faded, Edwards added that he won't change his ways and he’s actively working on how to get over the slump his team is in.
"You don't panic (after losing two straight games). You can't change your personality all of a sudden because that becomes a red flag. It sets off a bad signal for the players," he said. "We've had some seasons here where we lost a couple of games and we found a way out of it. Right now, we have to find our way out of it and that’s my job to figure that out."
Edwards wrote handwritten letters to each of the captains during the bye week. The letter contained words of encouragement and advice to help the team when things aren't going as well. The letter was well-received by many of the team’s captains.
Graduate student defensive tackle Shannon Forman applauded the coaching staff for doing all they can to help the team win but recognized the players need to execute.
"Coaches can't be out there playing for us," Forman said. "Our focus as a team is to just play. We can't overlook everything and worry about the next play and not the one that happened before."
This week in practice, the starters faced off against the backup players, making the environment more competitive.
Before this week, starters usually competed in drills against members of the scout team. Freshman cornerback Tommi Hill has played limited snaps in seven games this season but has impressed his teammates with his competitiveness in Wednesday's practice.
"The competition level is really high right now," Forman added. "We're just trying to face the best of the best right now. Guys like Tommi (Hill) are leaving it all out there, so it’s good for us."
One thing that has remained constant throughout the season has been a sense of unity in the locker room. There is no individual agenda each week. The team has bought into a win-first mentality brought upon by Edwards and the coaching staff.
"When you play football, it comes with losses. If you're willing to stop playing because of a loss then you shouldn't be doing anything in life," said freshman linebacker Eric Gentry. "We still have the ability to win 10 games which hasn't been done in a while, so we're focused on the next game and constantly build from that."
Arizona State Football takes on USC at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m. MST.
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