The end of Rudy Carpenter’s Arizona State career came like staccato gunfire from the Arizona sideline.
• A 10-yard touchdown pass from Willie Tuitama to Delashaun Dean.
• A Carpenter interception that set up a Nic Grigsby’s 12-yard touchdown run.
• A 52-yard punt return by Mike Thomas.
In the span of five, third-quarter minutes, the Wildcats delivered a deathblow to a forgettable Sun Devil season.
And an inglorious end to a once-promising quarterback’s career.
As Carpenter emerged from a tunnel underneath Arizona Stadium, his face a combination of disgust and wounded pride, the inescapable truth that he had played his last game for ASU settled heavily onto his shoulders.
“I never thought this could happen,” Carpenter told a sizable gathering of media. “I thought with the guys we had coming back on offense and the guys we had coming back on defense we could do something special this year.”
There was nothing special about ASU’s offense in 2008.
Carpenter was hampered all season by an anemic run game that produced just 38 yards Saturday.
He was hampered by inconsistent pass protection.
He was hampered by an assortment of injuries, the latest of which will require arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Monday.
But the truth is, Carpenter was never a difference maker when given the opportunity.
He was never the fresh-faced redshirt freshman who led the nation in passing efficiency.
He was never the successful riverboat gambler who made plays with his feet as much as his arm and head.
He was never the quarterback ASU fans expected him to be in his final season.
“We were just pretty abysmal on offense pretty much all year and it starts with me,” he said.
The numbers backed that claim again Saturday. Carpenter was a 13 of 31 passing for 124 yards with one interception and one touchdown in the Sun Devils’ 31-10 loss, arguably his worst performance in a season that produced many lowlights.
His third-quarter interception likely sealed ASU’s fate when the Wildcats converted it for seven points and a 21-10 lead.
And when the game had ended, Carpenter steeled himself for the deluge of fan and media criticism that has dogged him the past two seasons.
“I’m used to the criticism,” he said. “The only part that hurts is criticism that’s untrue or false. “When it’s about your play, whatever — and I don’t think I played very well all year so they can say whatever they want.”
Despite that admission and dim NFL prospects, Carpenter said he is still comfortable with his place in Sun Devil history.
“I had a great career here,” he said. “I went 3-1 against our rivals, I’m the school’s second all-time wins leader, and probably top five in almost every stat category in Pac-10 history.”
“We just didn’t win enough games.”