(Photo: Brett Deckert/WCSN)
Arizona State earned a crucial Pac-12 win, defeating UCLA 23-20 in a game that saw everything from back-up quarterbacks to countless empty drives to a new NCAA record. The Sun Devils are now 2-1 in Pac-12 play and 5-1 overall.
“I am just really proud of our football team,” head coach Todd Graham said. “I am proud of [QB] Brady [White] and the way he came in during a very tough situation against an excellent defense. I don’t think many people thought we would win tonight, but we did.
First Half Blues
To say both teams got off to slow starts in the first half would be putting it lightly. A plethora of mistakes from both sides contributed to just six total in the first 30 minutes.
Fumbles were a common occurrence, with three total and two resulting in turnovers.
Josh Rosen had a costly first quarter fumble deep in UCLA territory. It was recovered by JoJo Wicker and led to Zane Gonzalez’s first field goal, which was from 35 yards.
Kalen Ballage also lost a fumble on a botched carry out of the Sparky formation, its first mishap since the Sun Devils broke it out against Texas Tech.
The Ballage mistake was a good summary of the struggle each team had running the ball. ASU and UCLA combined for just 34 total yards on the ground.
Marcus Ball led ASU with five first half tackles, while D.J. Calhoun and Renell Wren each notched a sack.
Graham went out of his way to note that Ball “balled out,” as he put it.
“Marcus has had some health things and things that have held him back,” Graham said. “He broke his collarbone as a freshman, he’s had all kind of stuff. I was really, really proud him. He really came up big.”
It was clear both defenses came to play early on, especially the Sun Devils’ unit. They sacked Josh Rosen twice and had five total tackles for a loss. Rosen suffered an injury in the first quarter and played through it for a little while before he had to be removed. Redshirt senior Mike Faufal replaced him.
White Struggles Early On
All eyes were on ASU’s backup quarterback, redshirt freshman Brady White, and he failed to live up to expectations in the first half. White started off well, completing his first three passes, but finished the first 30 minutes just 8-for-21 for 44 yards. He also threw an interception.
White continued to struggle when it came to converting on third down. After he was unable to get one during the entire third quarter against USC last weekend, he also came up empty during the first half, going 0-for-8 on third down, which significantly hindered ASU’s offensive attack.
Second Half Brings Points
As was expected, both offenses turned a corner during the second half. ASU scored a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter, the first coming on a Demario Richard touchdown run. They also scored on a pass from White to N’Keal Harry as time expired in the quarter.
Graham mentioned the discipline of his team as one of the big reasons as for why they played much better in the second half.
White was much improved overall in the second half until he had to leave with an injury. He finished the contest 19-for-36 with 179 passing yards.
“I know one thing, Brady is 1-0 as a starting quarterback and I am so proud of him,” Graham said. “He did some nice things distributing the ball and you have to give him a lot of credit for going against this talented defense.”
Tim White was his receiver of choice. Tim had 11 catches for 123 yards and mentioned that his chemistry with Brady is growing with each passing game.
The bigger story was that ASU was forced to burn the redshirt of freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole. It was expected before the season that Sterling-Cole wouldn’t have to play all year, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
He only threw one pass, which resulted in an interception in the end zone after he bobbled the snap. It forced the Sun Devils to run out of the Sparky formation
The eventful second half also saw history when Zane Gonzalez made two field goals to give him sole possession of the most made field goals in NCAA history. The fans gave Gonzalez an extended standing ovation afterward, making the moment that much sweeter.
“Honestly it hasn’t set in yet,” he said. “Anytime you can hold a national record, it just speaks volumes. It hasn’t hit me yet. Once it does, it’s a great accomplishment. It’s a good way to go out for my senior year.”
For the most part, the Bruins kept pace with ASU. Rosen returned at quarterback after Faufal threw an interception to Gump Hayes, the second UCLA turnover the resulted in a Gonzalez field goal.
“We got back to sacking quarterbacks and TFLs and getting after people,” Graham said on the improved defensive play. “Tonight I challenged our guys, if you want to win championships, if you want to win the Pac-12 South, you have to play championship defense, and our guys rose to the occasion.”
Rosen threw for two touchdowns against the Sun Devils secondary, which had entered the game allowing the most passing yards in the nation. However, the Bruins offense stalled after he suffered his second injury of the game. Faufal failed to lead a last-minute drive, which was capped by a Robbie Robinson interception to end the game.
“This is the third time in the last four years that we have beaten UCLA and that’s a big deal,” Graham said. “We take a lot of pride in that.”