On Homecoming Weekend in Tempe, the Sun Devils looked to separate themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-12 South division on Saturday against UCLA. It was the perfect opportunity to take firm control of the division. And although the Sun Devils were able to put 43 points on the board, what became abundantly clear in an otherwise muddy division, is that the talent level and depth in Tempe just can’t afford any more significant injuries to key players. ASU was without stand-out defensive lineman Will Sutton, and Junior Onyeali was injured early in the game and didn’t return. It has never been more evident how much the depth on defense is an issue, than watching the final game-winning drive for UCLA. ASU took the lead with 1:33 left in the game after coming back from a 9 point deficit in the 4th quarter, only to surrender big chunks of yardage to the Bruins on their final drive for a game-winning field goal as the clock struck zero.
ASU jumped all over UCLA early after capitalizing on a muffed punt by Steven Manfro and then using their up-tempo offense to go up 14-0 just 5:10 into the game. The Bruins responded with a series of zone-read runs that they were able to break to the outside for several big gains. The ASU defense was having moderate to good success using their multiple blitz packages, but got away from bringing much needed pressure. This allowed UCLA QB Brett Hundley way too much time to pick apart the ASU secondary to tie the score at 14. In an instant replay of last week’s match-up with Oregon, Sun Devil defenders were caught way too often not maintaining outside contain or gap integrity.
As the game progressed, Taylor Kelly was able to extend plays the way he has all season, and on a beautiful roll-out hit Kevin Ozier in the end zone for what would have been a 21-14 lead if not for a blatant holding penalty on RT Brice Schwab. What should have been 7 points ended with a field goal. Combine that with a questionable offensive play call at the end of the half out of the end zone that resulted in a Kelly interception at the ASU 5 yard line and UCLA touchdown, and any momentum that ASU could have taken into the locker room was gone in an instant.
After the break, ASU scored on the opening drive of the second half on a Marion Grice screen pass after three explosive plays by DJ Foster. In another questionable call, ASU unsuccessfully attempted a 2-point conversion after the TD leaving the score 28-26. On UCLA’s next possession, the lack of QB pressure exposed the secondary for several big pass plays, and ultimately a touchdown that put ASU down 35-26 with 7:35 left in the 3rd quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Kelly hit Rashad Ross down field for a 23-yard pass, followed by a screen pass to Grice two plays later for an 8-yard touchdown that brought ASU within two, 35-33.
On the following drive, UCLA backed themselves into a corner with an offensive face mask penalty setting up a long 3rd and 20. Hundley scrambled for what appeared to be a ton of open field up the middle, only to be cartwheeled on a great open field hit by Osahon Irabor forcing a punt. UCLA held ASU three and out and after a short Josh Hubner punt, and the Bruins took over on their own 44. Giving ASU a taste of their own medicine, UCLA found a wheel route mismatch with the speedy Damien Thigpen matched up with ASU linebacker Chris Young for a 20 yard touchdown strike. It was a play that that ASU has had success with their offense, and much like Foster or Grice out of the backfield for ASU, Young was no match for the speedy Thigpen. ASU responded with an impressive drive that included a pass to Grice over the middle for a big pass play. That drive stalled inside the ten yard line resulting in another Jon Mora field goal bringing ASU to within six, 42-36.
The Sun Devils defense held UCLA on their next drive, capping it with a Brandon Magee sack of Hundley on 3rd down and forcing a punt. ASU, with all the momentum, drove it down the heart of the Bruin defense with Taylor Kelly on a keeper up the middle for a huge gain. That potential game-winning drive ended with Kelly extending another play and finding freshman superstar DJ Foster in the corner of the end zone for a 43-42 ASU lead. Then with 1:33 ticks left on the clock…
UCLA Final Drive
- UCLA took over possession for its final drive on their own 25 yard line.
- 1st down – 3-man rush. Pass complete for 14 yards to Manfro for another first down
- 1st down – incomplete – 2 deep safeties, man-to-man underneath
- 2nd and 10 – Jonathan Franklin nine yard run up the gut with no pressure – safeties in cover two and linebackers vacated in pass coverage.
- 3rd and 1 – 3-man rush. Completed pass for another 1st down
- 1st down on ASU 45 and :46 seconds left – 3-man rush and Hundley for short gain on scramble.
- 2nd and 9 – Complete pass to Shaq Evans for first down at ASU 33
- 1st down – spiked ball to stop clock
- 2nd and 10 – pass complete to Fauria for 7 yards
- 3rd and 2 – Franklin runs for first down to ASU 22
- 1st and 10 – Franklin 7 yards to the ASU 15 with :04
- Field goal made, UCLA wins with no time remaining.
That final drive illustrates just how anemic the ASU pass rush is without Sutton (and to a lesser extent, Onyeali) unless they are sending 5 and 6 players on a blitz. Without being able to get to Hundley with just D-Ends and a D-Tackle rushing, the secondary was helpless in coverage and UCLA was able to drive the ball at will to within the field goal range for a true freshman, inconsistent kicker.
There were several players that had performed well. Osahon Irabor and Keelan Johnson were outstanding in the secondary. Carl Bradford and Chris Young (outside of getting torched on the Thigpen TD) tackled well, but still had a tough time maintaining outside contain far too often. On offense, Jamil Douglass did a good job in pass protection and lead blocking for Grice on several successful screen passes. Foster and Grice continue to be incredible all-purpose backs and both had big gains running and receiving. Taylor Kelly is great when he’s extending plays, but has gotten into a habit of holding the ball too long before safely throwing it away when receivers are covered. It cost ASU a turnover and subsequent Bruin touchdown as well as at least a couple negative yardage plays when he stepped out of bounds before throwing it away. Chris Coyle had a good game catching what was thrown to him, but the UCLA defense did a good job taking away passing routes that have been his bread and butter.
Moving forward and after dropping back to back home games, the Sun Devils will go into Corvalis for a match-up with Oregon State who will be looking to right their own ship after having their undefeated season derailed by Washington on Saturday. Without knowing the status of difference makers Sutton and Onyeali for ASU, this is a very difficult game to predict. But as the season wears on with four games left, and the competition getting tougher week to week, the Sun Devils have shown resolve and a ton of fight for each game. I don’t expect that the adversity of these two consecutive losses will change the character of this team, and expect the Sun Devils to come out with the same determination and effort for every game remaining on the schedule this year. Click here to view the entire DieHardDevil.com PHOTO GALLERY from the UCLA game
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