Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 | 12:05 a.m.
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Tears were visible in the eyes of Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler when he walked into a postgame news coverage following the Sun Devils 56-24 loss to No. 8 Boise State in MACCO Bowl Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The lopsided loss Thursday was Arizona State’s fifth straight defeat, a slide that cost veteran coach Dennis Erickson his job and turned what was supposed to be a memorable bowl experience into a bittersweet end to the season.
Moments after gathering with teammates and coaches for the last time in the locker room, Osweiler faced the media and summarized how several around the program felt.
“There are so many seniors you will never be playing with again and coaches you won’t be coached by again,” said Osweiler, who delivered sincere and emotional comments, even becoming chocked up when talking about offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
“It was a lot of fun, but it was an emotional roller coaster,” he continued.
Senior receiver Gerell Robinson closed his career by setting a bowl game record for receiving yards, catching 13 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown.
In the fourth quarter alone, they connected for four receptions for 96 yards. The outburst helped Osweiler finish the season with more than 4,000 passing yards.
“Coach Mazzone is the reason why I just threw for 4,000 yards. Now he is gone and it hurts,” Osweiler said.
While some of the yardage came in garbage time, it showed how talented — and underachieving — Arizona State was. The Sun Devils, which were ranked No. 18 in the second week of November, closed with defeats to UCLA (by one point), Washington State, Arizona and Cal.
They defeats were by a combined 24 points, but it still wasn’t enough to spare Erickson his job. After all, the MACCO Bowl Las Vegas appearance was Arizona State’s first bowl berth since 2007.
Former Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham was hired earlier in the month and the uncertainty with the transition from one coach to the next was clearly a distraction for players. Some speculated the players would have a hard time finding motivation for the bowl game.
And, early on, the speculation proved dead-on. Arizona State surrendered 21 unanswered points to open the game and was undisciplined all night in being penalized 10 times for 92 yards.
Arizona State (6-7) trailed 28-3 at halftime, but Rashad Ross returned the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards to give the Sun Devils a boost. Then, on Boise State’s ensuing possession, Colin Parker came down with an interception to bring more optimism.
But they could never close the cap and Boise State scored the next three touchdowns in comfortably running out the clock. The big blow of the night came when Osweiler had an interception returned 100 yards by Jamar Taylor for a touchdown on a fourth down play midway through the third quarter to extend the Boise lead to 35-10.
Arizona State was on the doorstep of trimming its deficit to 11 points. On the play, television replays show Erickson asking for a timeout, but officials didn’t see his signal.
“There was a little bit of confusion as far as what play we wanted and if there was going to be a timeout,” Osweiler said. “We didn’t have the right personnel out there. Obviously, I should have just called a timeout.”
Robinson had a 21-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, but the outcome had already been long decided, and Arizona State still trailed, 49-17.
“We came out slow and we weren’t making plays,” said Robinson, who carried the record-setting game ball into the press conference. “The defense caused turnovers, but we couldn’t capitalize.”
The 64-year-old Erickson, who led Miami to national titles in 1989 and ‘91, could never get the program turned around at Arizona State. They even lost at home to UNLV in 2008.
This might have been his last game on the sideline. “I’ll be involved in football some way — I’m not sure exactly what,” he said.