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Cougars, Sun Devils desperate for a win

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 1:02 pm •  Published: November 16, 2012
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Distraction or not, the Cougars will face a tough test in the desert, playing a team that needs a win nearly as bad as they do.

Arizona State got off to a great start in its first year under coach Todd Graham, opening 5-1.

But, just like last season, the Sun Devils tapered off, losing their past four games during a brutal stretch in the schedule.

Arizona State's slide started with a 43-21 loss to then-No. 2 Oregon on Oct. 18, followed by losses to UCLA, Oregon State and Southern California, all ranked teams.

The loss to the Trojans, 38-21 on Saturday, left the Sun Devils on the verge of matching last year's collapse of five straight losses to end the season.

With the seniors playing their last home game and bowl eligibility on the line, they have extra motivation to make sure this season's losing streak ends right here.

"Our guys came in Sunday and know that we don't have an opportunity to compete for a championship as far as the Pac-12," Graham said. "That's disappointing, but we talked a lot about the seniors, talked a lot about this program and where we want this program to be. We have to go get bowl eligible."

The Sun Devils will need to get their sputtering offense going to have a chance.

Arizona State ran Graham's up-tempo scheme efficiently early in the season, churning out yards behind playmaking quarterback Taylor Kelly and a strong running game.

Teams over the past month have figured out how to bottle up the Sun Devils' running game, forcing them to the air. Without much depth at receiver, Arizona State has struggled to produce the big plays it had early in the season and Kelly's numbers have gone down without as much help from the ground game.

"As the year has gone on, we have a lot of depth in our best players as far as playmakers at the running back position," Graham said. "The teams do plan and do look to take away that, and we have struggled to have playmakers on the outside at the receiver position. We have to get better there."

With 11 combined losses in a row, both teams have a lot to work on.