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December 23, 2011

Erickson era ends with Vegas beatdown

LAS VEGAS -- The farewell send off Dennis Erickson's players had hoped to give him as an early Christmas present didn't happen. Not close.

A two touchdown underdog to No. 7 Boise State, Erickson's final game as Arizona State's coach ended in much the same way as the previous four, as a bitter loss. This one was the worst of the bunch, with the Sun Devils getting totally outclassed in every facet of a 56-24 drubbing in front of 35,720 at frigid Sam Boyd Stadium in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl.

The loss ended ASU's season at 6-7, a fourth straight losing season for Erickson, who had just one winning season at the school, in 2007. Boise State improved to 12-1 and showed onlookers and a nationally televised audience why its fans who wore shirts that spelled out "Occupy BCS" in the front row have legitimate cause to complain about the current post-season set up.

After starting 6-2 and at one point being considered a virtual lock to play in the first ever Pac-12 title game, and a contract extension for Erickson seemingly a foregone conclusion, November proved fruitless for ASU and December wasn't any better.

"It's difficult," Erickson said. "Things kind of went backward on us here the last part of the season. It's very emotional."

Erickson's tenure ends with a perfectly mediocre 31-31 record over five seasons. He was fired after the team's final regular season game and will now make way for new coach Todd Graham, who arrives from Pitt.

Immediately following the game, many of Erickson's players approached him to express gratitude for his efforts. Media members shook hands with him following the post-game press conference as a sign appreciation for his openness and professionalism during his time in Tempe.

The Sun Devils showed life just once, trailing 28-10 and moving the ball inside Boise State's red zone in the middle of the third quarter after junior Rashad Ross opened the half with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

It looked as though ASU would capitalize on a lost fumbled by Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, pushing the ball to the 1-yard line on third down before its junior quarterback Brock Osweiler threw an ill-advised fade pass on fourth down to the end zone intended for senior Aaron Pflugrad.

Broncos' defensive back Jamar Taylor defended Pflugrad well, stepped in front of the receiver, intercepted the pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown which robbed ASU's sidelines of its fledgling energy and all but ended its chances.

"We decided to go for it, but there was a little confusion on what play to run, if there was the right personnel out there, should we call a timeout. So, obviously I should have taken a timeout right there. It was jump ball in the corner and I tried to back shoulder it and the Boise defensive back made a great play and took it the other way."

With ASU trailing 35-10, the Broncos scored two more unanswered touchdowns in the next seven minutes of action to make it 49-10 and effectively render the entire fourth quarter as irrelevant other than with regard to several ASU single season records being pursued.

Osweiler became the first Sun Devil to throw for 4,000 yards in a season, going 30 of 47 for 395 yards with two touchdowns and the lone critical interception.

Senior Gerell Robinson, who finished with a Las Vegas Bowl-record 241 receiving yards on 13 catches with one touchdown, fell just shy of ASU's single season receiving yards mark.

But it was Moore's record 50th career win as a quarterback that will be most talked about. No other signal caller in FBS history has won more than 45 games, and Moore finished his Boise State career a mind-boggling 50-3.

Moore went 26 of 34 for 293 yards and two touchdowns with an uncharacteristic two interceptions and one fumble, but ASU wasn't able to capitalize.

Boise State running back Doug Martin had 151 rushing yards with one touchdown and a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game.

The Broncos raced out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter as ASU punted on its first five possessions, moving backwards on two of them. At halftime, a 28-3 lead had the game seemingly out of reach, but then a brief glimmer of hope emerged only to quickly be snuffed out.

And with it, perhaps the final chapter of Erickson's career. But not if he has anything to say about it.

Suggesting it will come down to what type of opportunity he's presented with moving forward, Erickson said he isn't interested in changing professions or stepping away from the game.

"I'll be involved in football some way; I'm not sure exactly what," Erickson said.


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