The Arizona State football team has proved through the first month of the 2010 season an ability to compete toe-to-toe with anybody in the country, a far improvement from recent seasons.
It still appears, though, that these Sun Devils haven't learned how to win.
ASU tallied 597 yards of total offense -- its most since 2000 -- against No. 5 Oregon, but seven turnovers and a host of other recurring mistakes cost the Sun Devils in a 42-31 loss in front of 60,326 Sun Devil Stadium patrons on a balmy Saturday night.
Time and time again, the Sun Devils marched down the field with a balanced offensive attack that netted 210 yards on the ground and 387 yards off the arm of the junior quarterback Steven Threet. But time and time again ASU stalled, turning the ball over three times in the red zone alone (another time it turned the ball over on downs on the Oregon 6).
"It's very disappointing to play well and then make a couple plays that cost the team the game," said Threet, who was 30 of 53 passing with three touchdowns but also threw four costly interceptions, three of them in the fourth quarter. "You're not going to win the game when you turn the ball over seven times. I think that it's plain and simple. It's the only way to look at it."
Trailing 24-14 with 3:36 left in the first half, the dangerous quick strike Oregon offense lived up to its reputation, scoring two rapid touchdowns to take a four-point lead into intermission.
The Ducks continued the momentum early in the third quarter, taking advantage of a Cameron Marshall fumble inside the Oregon 10-yard line by then going 80 yards in six plays, capped off by a 54-yard touchdown strike from sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas to freshman wide receiver Josh Huff, who found himself wide open after junior safety Eddie Elder bit on a pump fake.
Three minutes later, Oregon redshirt freshman linebacker Boseko Lokombo recovered a dropped pass by Marshall that was thrown behind the line of scrimmage, and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, in a little over 10 game minutes, the Ducks had forged a 28-0 run and a 42-24 lead.
If anything, the Sun Devils then proved that this year's team is comeback capable. ASU quickly answered the Lokombo score with an 8-play, 68-yard drive that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown from Threet to junior Mike Willie.
At the same time, ASU's defense stiffened. Though Oregon tallied 42 points (a season-low for the Ducks), two of those were defensive touchdowns -- Threet's first interception in the first quarter was returned by Oregon sophomore safety John Boyett for a 39-yard touchdown.
Oregon came into the game averaging 380 -- yes, 380 yards -- on the ground, but led by solid pressure from the defensive line, the Sun Devils held the Ducks to 145 yards, 40 of which came on a touchdown run by sophomore running back LaMichael James that tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter.
So with its defense continuing to answer the bell - Oregon punted 11 times - Threet and the offense continued to be given opportunities to make up ground.
The Sun Devils moved the chains (eight first downs in the final period) and threatened often in the seemingly never-ending fourth quarter - but those threats remained empty.
Threet threw two interceptions in the red zone with ASU driving toward scores, crucial mistakes that were too much to overcome.
"Attention to detail, focus, however you want to put it," Threet said. "It comes down to we made too many mistakes. However we solve that, it has to get corrected."
The Sun Devils now prepare for a crucial stretch of the season -- road games at Oregon State, Washington and Cal lie ahead -- with a record it believes was a few missed opportunities away from being 4-0.
"It hurts deep because we had them in our back pocket," Willie said. "We could have put them away. We let them back in with a couple turnovers, and you can't give a good team opportunities."