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3 takeaways from ASU's loss to NC State in the Sun Bowl

Posted at 5:01 PM, Dec 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-29 19:00:58-05

The Arizona State Sun Devils' goal of sending outgoing head coach Todd Graham out on a high note didn't go exactly as planned in El Paso on Friday afternoon.

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley had a near-perfect game and the Wolfpack scored six rushing touchdowns to defeat ASU 52-31 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, in what was Graham's final game as ASU's head coach. The Devils ended the season with a 7-6 overall record and 6-3 mark in the Pac-12.

Here are three big takeaways from the loss that ended the six-year Graham Era in Tempe.

1. Let's take a moment to appreciate N'Keal Harry

Amid the chaos of all the coaching turnover in the past month -- not to mention the result of Friday's game -- ASU fans can appreciate the fact that they have arguably the best receiver in college football on their side.

Chandler High School alum N'Keal Harry made one highlight catch after another throughout the season, and he did more of the same Friday, especially on an incredible one-handed catch in the second quarter, which he followed up with a terrific touchdown grab.

For the game, Harry made nine catches for 141 yards and the TD. He's only a sophomore, which means ASU will get him for at least one more season before he's eligible to declare for the NFL Draft.

2. Turnovers, bad decisions doom Devils

In hindsight, ASU set the tone for the game on its first possession when NC State recovered a fumble by wide receiver Kyle Williams. In the third quarter, Sun Devil quarterback Manny Wilkins threw a pair of interceptions in NC State territory to halt any hopes of an ASU rally. For the game, ASU committed four turnovers to NC State's one.

ASU also struggled a bit on special teams. After Harry's TD cut the Wolfpack's lead to 21-10 late in the first half, the Devils tried a surprise onside kick that NC State recovered. The Wolfpack used the short field to score another TD, and ASU freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz missed a 43-yard field goal in the final seconds of the half to allow NC State to go into halftime with a commanding 28-10 edge.

The Devils pulled to within 38-24 after a successful onside kick in the fourth quarter, but another unsuccessful onside attempt on the ensuing kickoff with nine minutes left to play set up a Wolfpack score five minutes later to put the game on ice.

3. What's next?

For better or worse, the Sun Devil football program can finally make a full transition from Graham to new head coach Herm Edwards and the rest of the newcomers on the staff.

Many ASU fans are apprehensive about what the future holds under Edwards, who hasn't coached college football since 1989. But the Devils return some key pieces next year, including Wilkins, Harry and other key playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Can the Devils build on their 6-3 Pac-12 record under their new regime in 2018? It's going to be a very interesting 2018 in Tempe, to say the least.