Monday High 5: The Fine Line Between Good and Bad Football Teams

Matthew JohnsonNovember 9, 2020
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This past weekend was especially brutal for Valley sports fans. The Arizona State University football team blew a 13-point lead to the University of Southern California in the final minutes on Saturday. Then the Arizona Cardinals suffered a frustrating loss to the Miami Dolphins at home on Sunday. But it wasn’t all gridiron heartbreak: We’ve also got college hoops on the brain. Let’s get into five major takeaways from the weekend in sports. 

1. Kingsbury calls for kicker over Kyler.

The Cardinals second-year quarterback, Kyler Murray, balled out on Sunday with four touchdowns and nearly 400 total yards of offense. He made defenders look silly trying to tackle him in the open field and put the Cardinals in position to win this game, improve to 6-2 and take over first place in the NFC West division as well as the top spot in the conference.  

However, the rest of his team and the head coach were not up to the task. Wide receiver Andy Isabella cost his team a first down near the end of the first half, which then led to a bone-headed timeout call from head coach Kliff Kingsbury on a fourth down. That play gave Miami the ball back with enough time to kick a field goal before halftime. Oh, by the way, Arizona would lose this game by three points, so file that play away if the Cardinals miss the playoffs. 

The end of the game is also leaving Cardinals fans scratching their heads as Kingsbury elected not to go for it on fourth down with less than two minutes to play in regulation and instead opted for a 49-yard field goal attempt to tie the game, which kicker Zane Gonzalez left short.  

Big takeaway: The gutless decision-making by the Cardinals head coach is a serious problem now that it cost them a game. Kingsbury’s preference for the kicker over Kyler nearly cost Arizona against Seattle, and it caught up with him in this 34-31 loss to Miami. At some point, he needs to grow a pair and trust the quarterback who’s playing like a warrior right now.  

2. Short-handed defense can’t stop a short-handed offense.

Miami came into the game short two running backs. A receiver and tight end left the game with injuries. Five assistant coaches were out due to COVID protocols. Yet, the Dolphins offense had its way with the undermanned Cardinals defense. Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa marched his squad up and down the field all day with zero turnovers and 34 points on the scoreboard, including 10 in the fourth quarter. 

Big Takeaway: The Cardinals greatly improved the defense in the off-season, but Sunday showed their lack of depth and how vulnerable they are when starters are missing. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was inactive with a thigh injury, and cornerback Byron Murphy and pass rusher Devon Kennard were both out because of positive COVID tests. Their inability to force a rookie quarterback into making mistakes in his first career road start was frustrating to watch considering they were able to force Seattle’s Russell Wilson into three turnovers in the previous game.  

3. Sun Devils steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

It’s not easy to lose a game when you’re leading by 13 points with three minutes to play, but ASU somehow found a way on Saturday against USC. ESPN said the Sun Devils had a 99.9 percent winning probability when it led 27-14 late in the fourth quarter, but the 20th ranked Trojans discovered the 0.1 percent chance it needed to rally to win, which included the recovery of an onside kick.  

Big Takeaway: One loss in a six-game season is game over for this team. USC was going to be the toughest team the Sun Devils played all year, and they let the chance to win the Pac-12 South slip away in the first game of the season. Instead of being ranked and in the driver’s seat in the conference with prime TV time slots, ASU is now relegated to an 8:30 p.m. kickoff in Week 2 against Cal. That’s how quickly this team has lost relevance in the shortened 2020 season. 

4. ASU basketball ranked in preseason Top 25.

This is about as rare as a headline gets. ASU comes in at No. 18 in the AP Top 25 preseason basketball poll, the highest ranked Pac-12 team in 2020. According to Chris Karpman of SunDevilSource.com, it’s only the third time since 1978 the Sun Devils have appeared in the rankings before the season started. ASU tips off the season November 25 at the Empire Classic tournament in Connecticut.  

Big Takeaway: Bobby Hurley is doing something right in Tempe. Potential Pac-12 Player of the Year Remy Martin returns for his senior season. Incoming freshmen Joshua Christopher and Marcus Bagley were two of the most highly recruited players in the country. Veterans returning such as Taeshon Cherry, Kimani Lawrence and Alonzo Verge have this team poised for big things this season. It’s going to be fun to watch. 

5. Masters week is finally here!

You’ll find your way into a golfing fan’s heart with two simple words: Masters Week. Golf’s preeminent showcase was postponed in April because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and everyone wondered what Augusta National Golf Club would look like in November. We don’t have to dream about it anymore – it’s here. 

Big Takeaway: The Masters gives us something to turn to this weekend instead of our bad football teams. Bring on the Amen Corner! 

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