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The Sun Devils are back in the rankings this week following what could be considered a defining win on the road against UCLA. For the first time in coach Herm Edwards’ tenure, No. 22 ASU is 2-0 to start conference play, and some creative play calling and execution allowed the Sun Devils to win comfortably, scorching the Bruins 42-23 at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
Arizona State is in control of its own destiny in the Pac-12 South as we approach the midway point in the season, and the Sun Devils can see a path back to the Rose Bowl; a goal they have not achieved since 1996.
As the Sun Devils made their way to the locker room on Saturday night following the win, Edwards and Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson took some time to appreciate the moment. As Edwards approached Anderson, he smiled, took off his hat and the two shook hands before eventually hugging.
“One at a time,” Anderson told Edwards.
“One at a time,” Edwards parroted.
Coincidentally, the slogan “one at a time,” is tied to the last time that the Sun Devils made it to the Rose Bowl. Late coach Bruce Snyder, who led that 1996 team, was a huge proponent of the saying.
It’s something the players say Snyder drilled into their brains, and it’s a mentality some have adopted in their daily lives after athletics. Some of the ’96 team members even have a hat that says “one at a time” with Snyder’s name on it.
“It wasn’t just something we talked about once the game started, it was something we literally lived all the time,” said Kyle Murphy, who played under Snyder in the mid-90s. “When we would go up to Camp T for those 10 days, he’d always introduce it because the freshmen obviously didn’t know it.”
Murphy was an All-Pac-10 and All-American offensive lineman who helped lead the Sun Devils on their last Rose Bowl run. He said the foundation for their motto was built off four pillars, to which they had to adhere if they wanted to be part of the team. Those pillars focused on being your best self all the time.
“One play at a time. One series at a time. One quarter at a time, so on and so forth,” Murphy said. “That’s how we built it, and it’s been talked about a lot, but the most evident you’ll see it was after we beat Nebraska. Immediately, the entire ICA building was filled with ‘Beat Oregon’ papers. You know, immediately you have to move on. It was the center of everything we did and it permeated throughout our lives, not just in the football building or on the football field.”
When Edwards was asked if there was any connection between his decision to use the phrase and Snyder’s legacy, Edwards said it’s a mentality he’s always had, too.
“I didn’t know Bruce (Snyder) said that,” he said. “I knew coach Snyder as well. He recruited me in high school. That’s just, I’ve always said that. The only game you can win is the one you have to play, and then when that one’s done, it’s the next week.
“It’s funny, when you’re in the arena, there’s a different mindset you have to have than the folks who are outside the arena. I learned this as a player. One of my coaches told me this; a high school coach, actually. He said, ‘You know, every game is an important game and every game is a big game because that’s the only one you play.’ If you always have that mindset that every game is a big game, especially when you win, then when supposedly these other bigger games… they all become like ‘Okay I’ve done this before.’ It just becomes the world you live in.”
It took time for the team to fully embrace Edwards’ mentality, but their ability to focus on the task at hand against UCLA was an improvement from years past. The Devils only had one previous win on the road in L.A. during his tenure (1-3) and only two wins over L.A. schools.
Players have started using people’s doubts about the program and what they’ll be able to achieve as a source of motivation. It was an especially meaningful game for a large portion of the roster, as a number of players grew up there.
For star quarterback Jayden Daniels, playing in the Rose Bowl meant an opportunity to play in front of his family. It was something particularly poignant for him, as he dedicated the win to his late grandfather.
“Getting a good win for my grandfather that passed; yesterday was his birthday. It just felt good coming home to play in front of family and friends,” Daniels said after the win.
Dohnovan West, a junior offensive lineman, found a way to craft Edwards’ motto into his own source of inspiration. West said that when he was being recruited in high school, UCLA was one of his first offers. When the staff underwent a change, transitioning from Jim Mora to Chip Kelly in 2017, West said the new staff decided not to re-offer him.
“That’ll get me motivated when I go out there and play against them,” he said before the game.
For Darien Butler, UCLA was his dream school growing up. Coming out of Narbonne High School, Butler’s only Pac-12 offer was to Arizona State, something he keeps in the back of his mind.
With the win at UCLA, ASU is in first place in the Pac-12 South and is considered the favorite to win the division. With a short week before a Friday game against a Stanford team that just knocked Oregon from the list of unbeatens, this game is shaping up as the conference game of the week.
Friday provides another opportunity for Arizona State to nurture the “one at a time” mentality. A win could move them one step closer to that memorable achievement 25 years ago.