After its fourth consecutive loss, the Arizona State football team is just scrapping to stay afloat. With aspirations of the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 Conference crown long gone, the team's gaze has been considerably lowered.
Saturday's 44-21 loss at Oregon was just the latest setback, for the Sun Devils (4-5, 2-5 Pac-10), who need to win their final two games to become bowl eligible.
"There's a lot to play for," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "I want to see our seniors go out the correct way."
It's a two-game season now for ASU, who will travel to Pasadena this weekend to play UCLA. The Bruins (5-5, 2-5) will also be fighting for their postseason lives, as they need to beat either ASU or USC to get to the six-win plateau.
As of Monday, Erickson said he didn't know who would be leading ASU's offense. He went up to Eugene with a clear favorite, but came back to Tempe with three options to look at.
Freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler made his first career start while senior Danny Sullivan nursed his sore right arm, but it was sophomore Samson Szakacsy who emerged with the game's finest performance.
"I'm not sure yet," Erickson said when asked who he would start. "I won't know probably until tomorrow for sure."
After Osweiler went out with a left arm injury in the second quarter, Szakacsy took over for the rest of the game. Down 31-7 in the third quarter, Szakacsy rallied his team to within 10, leading it to back-to-back touchdown drives.
By far the most mobile of ASU's three options at quarterback, Szakacsy kept many plays alive with his feet. He also showed he was a capable passer, going 6-of-7 for 62 yards and a touchdown on the two scoring series.
"The thing about [Szakacsy] is he's very accurate," Erickson said. "He made some good throws that game. But we'll just wait and see, I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet."
Erickson said he didn't know if Osweiler or Sullivan were definitely healthy, but that he expects both to be able to play this week in practice.
Szakacsy, too, isn't completely healthy, as he has been battling tendonitis in his throwing arm all season long. Erickson said he doesn't expect Szakacsy to be at full strength until spring football next year.
Though Szakacsy's running ability adds another dimension to ASU's offense, Erickson said he wouldn't consider making any drastic changes to accommodate Szakacsy's style of play.
"We'll do some things within our game plan to take advantage of his mobility," Erickson said. "But it's not like we're going to go change things. A lot of the things we do in our offense, when you go to it, could call for a quarterback to keep it a little bit more."
But quarterback wasn't the only position in the backfield to be affected by injuries Saturday. Freshman running back Cameron Marshall, who had become the team's featured back in recent weeks, was limited by tight leg muscles.
"It wasn't exactly balmy in Oregon," Erickson said.
Though senior running back Dimitri Nance received 26 of his team's 38 carries, Erickson said Marshall will "play a lot more this week."
Three Sun Devils also experienced season-ending injuries in Eugene. Erickson said sophomore offensive lineman Matt Hustad had an MRI Monday and that he thinks Hustad dislocated his knee cap. Senior Tom Njunge took over for Hustad against Oregon and is in line to start.
Erickson said sophomore tight end Dan Knapp is also out for the year after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament. According to Erickson, Knapp was close to 100 percent recovered from the right ACL tear he suffered on Oct. 11, 2008.
"Tragedy," Erickson said of Knapp's injuries.