PULLMAN – Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan waited patiently for three years.
He did the things people ask of a backup, holding on placements, protecting the fort when there were injuries, not complaining.
This was to be his year. Three-year starter Rudy Carpenter had graduated. It was Sullivan’s time.
And yet …
Four games into the 2009 season, Sullivan’s play is under fire. After ASU’s 28-17 loss to Oregon State, Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley, among others, called for a change at quarterback.
What’s surprising is that neither ASU nor Sullivan is doing that poorly.
The Sun Devils are 2-2, 0-1 in the Pac-10. They won their first two games easily, went down to Georgia and lost in the final minute, then were stunned early and fell to Oregon State.
Through it all, Sullivan’s play, while not spectacular, was at least competent. The senior is completing better than 50 percent of his passes. He’s thrown three touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s averaging more than 200 yards passing per game.
And yet …
“This is not the way I want to be playing right now, and it’s not the way I intended it to be,” Sullivan said this week. “I need to get myself better and help this team.”
The calls for a switch to freshman Brock Osweiler, the 6-foot-8 former Gonzaga University basketball commit from Kalispell, Mont., escalated after the OSU defeat, despite what was, statistically, Sullivan’s most productive game.
Forced to throw on nearly every down – after jumping out to a 14-0 lead with help from Arizona State, the Beavers shut down ASU’s running game, holding the Devils to 68 yards – Sullivan finished 32 of 58 for 338 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It wasn’t enough to win, or to quiet the critics.
“While Sullivan isn’t bad, turnover-prone or susceptible to brain cramps, he doesn’t make the plays that seem to gush from great quarterbacks,” Bickley wrote.
Head coach Dennis Erickson seemed to agree, saying after the game the quarterback position would be re-evaluated.
Monday, Erickson came down in Sullivan’s camp.
“As you re-evaluate and study the tape, Danny did some awfully good things for us,” Erickson said at his press conference. “He threw it pretty successfully, he managed the game pretty well and he turned it over one time, which he has not done before.
“He will start this game against Washington State.”
And yet …
“Does that mean Brock won’t play?” Erickson added, referring to Saturday’s game in Pullman. “No. I have not decided that yet, and I won’t make that decision until the end of the week.”
For his part, Sullivan is trying to keep above the fray.
“It’s tough dealing with the whole situation this past Saturday,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything like that to happen. … In the last 48 hours, I have had time to relax and get support from family and friends. I just need to continue what I have been doing.
“I don’t bother reading (the criticism). I need to worry about me, and what my family, friends and teammates say. That’s all I care about.”
That, and the support of Erickson, the guy making the decisions.
“Danny Sullivan did not lose the football game by any means,” Erickson said. “Everyone was involved in that. Everybody on our football team.
“(Sullivan) did some awfully good things.”
“It means a lot … to say he’s going to back me through thick and thin,” Sullivan said of Erickson. “I respect that, and if things don’t go my way, I’m still going to respect coach to the fullest.”