In crunch time, Herm Edwards and Arizona State … did exactly what they were supposed to do.
No one’s making fun of Herm Edwards and Arizona State now.
Everyone who cackled when the school first announced the hire, or mocked the NFL-style “leadership model” that he and athletic director Ray Anderson promised to bring to the football program, or pounced on the most incoherent moments of his introductory press conference—all of us have to be quiet for a few days. The Sun Devils are 2–0 and the toast of the Pac-12 after upsetting No. 15 Michigan State in Tempe on a Brandon Ruiz 28-yard field goal as time expired, outlasting the Spartans in a defensive slog of a game in oppressive Arizona heat.
Michigan State led 3–0 at halftime, but once the force fields were lifted from each end zone, Arizona State did not back down in the face of an opponent known for winning unsightly rock fights on occasion. And most importantly, with the Sun Devils driving and the game tied in the final minutes, Edwards passed every clock management test and did exactly what he was supposed to do.
Arizona State took over at its own 21-yard line with 4:55 left in a tie game and proceeded to calmly drive the length of the field, getting several clutch throws from quarterback Manny Wilkins. The redshirt senior’s pass for top receiver N’Keal Harry on a third-and-10 drew a pass interference call that put the ball at the Michigan State 29, and from there the Sun Devils picked up two first downs over the course of three run plays, the final conversion allowing them to bleed all but three seconds of the game clock away and put the ball in the perfect position for Ruiz to win it.
The snarkier corners of the Internet have been waiting for Edwards to show the effects of having been nowhere near a major college football sideline since 1989, when he was the defensive backs coach at San Jose State. But in that final drive and the rest of Saturday night’s game, there was no sign that he was out of place matching wits with Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, who has earned widespread praise for building one of the nation’s most reliably dangerous programs.
Now comes the hard part: Arizona State hits the road for the first time next weekend to take on San Diego State and then Washington. After a game against Pac-12 doormat Oregon State, the Sun Devils have a brutal October, including road trips to Colorado and USC and a visit from Stanford. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought they’d be sitting alongside Colorado and Utah as the Pac-12 South’s unblemished teams after two weeks, while offseason darlings USC and Arizona licked their wounds from September setbacks. If Edwards keeps acting and talking like a college football coach in 2018, there’s little reason to believe ASU can’t stay there.