The sullenness and silence in the Arizona State dressing room Saturday night following the Sun Devils' 17-13 loss to Washington, was overwhelming. But it could not obscure a basic fact: although the previously unbeaten Sun Devils probably won't be going to the Rose Bowl, their season will not end in two weeks.
And that is something, considering the alternatives.
ASU knows about the alternatives, namely the NCAA and Pac-10 probation that has kept it off television this season and last and out of bowl games in 1980 and '81.
But the probation is about to end, and with it will go the Sun Devils' obscurity. A bowl bid awaits Saturday, most likely to the Fiesta Bowl.
Washington can win the Pac-10 title, and go to the Rose Bowl for the third straight year, by beating Washington State Saturday. Washington is 9-1, Washington State, 2-7-1.
Coach Darryl Rogers, in his third season at ASU following the turbulent Frank Kush era, has weathered the probation here, as he weathered it at Michigan State, where he coached before. Neither time was the probation his fault.
"The stigma of probation sounds worse than it is," said Rogers. His career record is 117-73-6, giving him the dubious distinction of having won more games than any other active coach who has never gone to a major bowl game. That distinction shouldn't last long, though.
"Hopefully, next Saturday, somebody will invite us to a bowl game," Rogers said. "And we'll accept, because we deserve to be in one."
So does Washington. Before a noisy crowd of 72,021, the largest ever to witness a sporting event in Arizona, the Huskies did Saturday what no other ASU opponent had done--keep their poise.
The Sun Devils gained 360 yards to 230 for the Huskies. But ASU (9-1) committed four turnovers, including fumbled returns of a punt and kickoff that directly led to both Washington touchdowns.
Just as important, Washington held the ball nearly four minutes longer and prevented its quarterback, Tim Cowan, from being sacked by ASU's vaunted blitzing defense. ASU went into the game with 49 sacks for the season.
But Washington Coach Don James was prepared. His game plan was flawless: Cowan would drop back but a few yards, rather than the usual seven or so. He would release the ball quickly, avoiding the blitz, taking an incompletion over a sack.
In addition, James got maximum usage out of Jacque Robinson, a sophomore tailback named the most valuable player in last year's Rose Bowl. Against ASU, Robinson carried 34 times for 126 yards and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a four-yard run in the third quarter.
After the game, Huskies players spoke with contempt of the Sun Devils, not because of their ability, but for what was perceived as their lack of respect.
"We were hearing about their defense all week long," said Eric Moran, a 6-6, 284-pound Washington offensive tackle. "And all week we were reading about how they gave us no respect. We had the utmost respect for a team of their ability and they didn't return one iota of it."
"They have an outstanding defense," said Washington cornerback Ray Horton, "but they thought they were invincible."
Actually, that was a fairly accurate assessment of the ASU defense and its collective self-confidence.
"We really don't think anyone can run on us or score on us," ASU safety Paul Moyer had said last week.
Even in defeat, the ASU defense did not play poorly. It gave up just 15 yards more than the 215 yards per game it had been allowing. And because of the turnovers, Washington's two touchdown drives covered just 32 and 25 yards.
The emphasis on defense in 1982 is a dramatic change from last year, when ASU led the nation in total offense and set a Pac-10 record for yards gained.
Nine players from that team made NFL rosters, including four members of the offensive backfield -- quarterback Mike Pagel (Colts) and running backs Gerald Riggs (Falcons), Robert Weathers (Patriots) and Newton Williams (49ers).
Rogers knew his offense would be inexperienced this season. But not his defense, where eight starters returned.
"I think experience is the No. 1 factor with this football team," Rogers said. "Of course, we're skilled and I wouldn't want to belittle the players we have because they are excellent athletes. But with experience."
And with quickness. They are big but they can move. In a master stroke, Rogers and his staff installed a blitz, so that about half the time ASU will rush from five to eight defenders in various patterns and schemes.
The results have been devastating. USC was held to a net 20 yards rushing in a 17-10 loss earlier in the year.
"The blitz is definitely the key to the defense," said Moyer, who has made 10 quarterback sacks. "We have good size and good speed and we use it. So why lay back and have people take what they can get?"