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Flashback: Canidate just needed ’6 inches of daylight’ to run through ASU in 1998

Trung Canidate

Trung Canidate takes a handoff from Keith Smith in the 1998 game vs. Arizona State. Photo by Tom Hauck, Getty Images Sport

When Trung Canidate thinks back on it now, he’s not all that surprised by what happened when Arizona played Arizona State in 1998.

“It was a thing where we were highly powerful, loaded,” he said.

“We had a phenomenal team. I had several 100-yard games until that point. I had no reason to believe I wasn’t going to put up 100 yards, but I had no idea it was going to be the number I was going to put up that night.”

Canidate ran wild that night in Arizona Stadium, but ASU’s Ryan Kealy countered by scorching a Chris McAlister-led secondary for 511 yards.

Through it all — including an interception and a blocked punt by McAlister, and 21 tackles from UA linebacker Marcus Bell — nobody exhaled until the final play. Kealy, with one second left from the Arizona 28, threw a pass into the end zone for Lenzie Jackson. Cornerback Kelvin Hunter knocked the ball away to preserve a 50-42 victory.

Mostly, though, the night is remembered because of what Canidate did. Using his elite speed, Canidate was a blur, running for 288 yards, including scoring blasts of 80, 66 and 48 yards.

“I actually thought we were going to have a bigger game than we did through the air,” quarterback Keith Smith said this week. “We had Jeremy (McDaniel) and Dennis (Northcutt) out there at receiver.

“But then you hand off on a stretch play, and Trung makes a guy miss and goes 60 yards.”

Canidate remembers having some trash-talking fun with Arizona State defensive back Willie Daniel, a friend from Phoenix. They have remained close; Daniel was in Canidate’s wedding last weekend.

“I told him that if the offensive line gave me six inches, I’m going to make all of you pay,” Canidate said. “He knew once I got behind him basically the grass was going to have to come up and trip me.”

Because no Sun Devil was going to catch him.

The passage of time might be exaggerating the memory, but his quip about needing only a certain amount of inches of daylight is classic Canidate. That was his favorite line from his playing days. He told reporters after the ASU game: “The (offensive) line told me they would give me 14 inches of daylight. That’s all I needed.”

Six inches. Fourteen inches. Whatever.

He says: “I’m a little bigger now. I need 24 inches.”

Canidate entered the ASU game on a roll, with a 180-yard game against Oregon and 174 yards vs. Washington State within the last month of the season. He scored on runs of 71, 75 and 45 yards in those two games.

“We always knew when we played ASU, it was going to be a tough game,” he said.

“We were blue-collar workers, and they were the prima donnas, so it was time to go to work. With our success on offense, it was like we were the prima donna, but we took that mentality of blue-collar workers.”

Canidate’s 80-yard run gave Arizona a 26-22 halftime lead. He gave the Cats a 43-28 lead with his 66-yard sprint. His 48-yard touchdown put Arizona ahead 50-35 with 4:02 left. Amazingly, he got his 288 yards on just 18 carries.

“I think the coaches rested me a bit during the game,” he said.

“I think we felt like the game was kind of sealed. ASU was just a gnat or some type of disease that wouldn’t go away. The next thing you knew they were back in the game.”

Hunter’s play finally sealed the victory for the seventh-ranked Wildcats, who finished the regular season at 11-1. At that point, UCLA just needed to win at Miami to advance to the first-ever BCS championship game.

Rose Bowl officials, who were in attendance at the Arizona-ASU game, would have picked the Cats as an at-large team to replace the Bruins. Canidate walked off the field carrying a Rose, but Pasadena was not to be, as the Hurricanes upset UCLA 49-45.

As it turned out, Arizona’s Holiday Bowl experience was great, as the Cats defeated Nebraska 23-20. Canidate is right; that offense was loaded. Consider these guys who went on to the NFL:

Canidate, McDaniel, Northcutt, offensive linemen Edwin Mulitalo, offensive lineman Yusuf Scott, tight end Mike Lucky, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, H-back Paul Shields … as well as touchdown-making running back Kelvin Eafon, and the tag-team of Smith and Ortege Jenkins at quarterback.

After the fantastic finish to 1998, Canidate launched into the 1999 season, when he set the school record with 1,602 rushing yards in a single season.

It’s the ASU game that defines his Arizona career, though.

In 1998, Arizona and Arizona State combined for 1,169 yards and the most points (92) in the history of the series. Canidate’s 288 yards stood as a single-game record until two weeks ago when Ka’Deem Carey romped for 366 yards against Colorado. (RELATED: Canidate amazed at record-setting Ka’Deem Carey.)

Canidate broke into a chorus of the Cheers’ theme song — “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” — when asked if he still runs into people who ask him about the ASU game. We’ll take that as a yes.

He said playing against Arizona State was always special.

“If you don’t take it to the next level, you can actually get hurt in that game,” he said.

“If you don’t put your mind and your body in a different place, and be able to be composed while you’re doing that, you can get embarrassed. It’s a special moment.”

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Canidate’s touchdown runs start at 0:29 seconds, 9:50 and 11:28.

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