(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
The No. 13 Arizona State Sun Devils fell into a 35-21 hole at the beginning of the second half, panicked and benched Taylor Kelly en route to a 42-35 loss to the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats that sent the Territorial Cup to Tucson.
After a 21-21 duel in the first half that was riddled with big mistakes by both teams, Arizona began the second half by taking advantage of an ASU defense that was missing key playmakers. With Laiu Moeakiola joining Jordan Simone on the sideline, Arizona drove the field twice and jumped out to a 14-point lead while the ASU offense struggled to find points.
While the offense wasn’t getting on the scoreboard to begin the second half, Taylor Kelly led the Sun Devils into Wildcats territory twice, which made the decision to bench the senior and put in Mike Bercovici an odd one. It was seemingly validated when Bercovici led the team on a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive; however, all that momentum was lost when he threw an interception on the next possession.
Bercovici led the Sun Devils to another touchdown, but it was too little, too late and a final drive ended with a turnover on downs in Arizona territory to seal a victory for the Wildcats.
The loss ends ASU’s regular season and hopes at a third-consecutive season of ownership of the Territorial Cup. A 31-10 loss for the UCLA Bruins would have meant a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game for ASU, but instead that honor will go to Arizona.
Player of the game: Jaelen Strong
Jaelen Strong crossed 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season with an acrobatic, one-handed reception down the sideline that put the ASU offense inside Arizona’s five-yard line. Shortly thereafter, he added 50 yards to his total with a diving grab and then casually made a one-handed grab on a three-yard touchdown a few plays later. What didn’t show up in his stat total was pass interference penalties he drew, as the Wildcats racked up 78 yards worth of penalty yardage.
Biggest concern: Now what at QB?
Taylor Kelly is the team captain on offense and Todd Graham has not been shy about calling him the unquestioned leader of the program. With the regular season now over, does the team go back to Kelly for the final game of his prolific Sun Devils career?
Unsung hero: Armand Perry
The first drive of the game for Arizona ended after Armand Perry chased down his high school teammate Anu Solomon for a sack that netted a 15-yard loss for the Wildcats and pinned the team deep. It was the only big contribution to the statbook for Perry, who finished with three tackles on the day; however, that’s a good stat for the freshman who saw plenty of time at nickel cornerback. With Liau Moeakiola sidelined due to injury, Perry saw a lot of play time and more than held his own.
Stat of the game: 15 tackles for loss
The ASU offense found rhythm and yardage against the Arizona defense, but had too many negative plays that proved costly. Arizona’s star linebacker Scooby Wright racked up plays in the backfield and several ASU drives that should have resulted in points ended due to plays that backed the team up.
The regular season is over for ASU, and with the loss, the team will not have a chance at playing in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Instead the team is likely to earn a bid to one of the middle-tier bowls with a Pac-12 tie-in like the Holiday Bowl or Foster Farms Bowl.
You can reach Adam Stites on Twitter @AdamStitesASU or by email firstname.lastname@example.org