(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
This was the team Arizona State fans expected to see from the beginning and not 10 games into the season. The offense, which so many people thought would be the Sun Devils’ strength, finally hit its stride in today’s 52-37 win over Arizona.
That growth and development was embodied today by redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien, whose nine catches for 190 yards – both career bests – and a touchdown earned him the Bob Moran MVP award of the 2015 Territorial Cup.
“It was great,” Lucien said. “I’m really lost for words because it’s my first time really doing something in a rivalry game.”
In addition to carving up the Arizona secondary, Lucien connected with redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici for 58 and 59 yard plays, both career highs. The connection between Bercovici and Lucien hasn’t always manifested itself on the field, but today, it was clear the two were on the same page.
“Me and Berc worked all offseason on deep balls and just having that connection so we could have a game that we did today,” Lucien said.
It was the type of contribution that was expected from Lucien coming into the season, and while it took 10 games to come together, it came at the best time possible for the Sun Devils.
And while Lucien, a former UCLA Bruin, hasn’t been in Tempe for all but one season, he is well-aware of how unique the experience is in the Territorial Cup as opposed to the UCLA-USC rivalry.
“It’s two totally different games, just the whole feel and everything,” Lucien said. “I’m not going to give the edge to either rivalry just to be politically correct, but I’m going to tell you I had a lot more fun in this rivalry than I ever did in the USC-UCLA rivalry.”
ASU showed the explosion and tempo in the first half that has been so elusive this season, tallying 400 total yards on offense and scoring on five of its nine possessions. Although the Sun Devils went just 2-for-12 on third down, it was their success on the first two downs that sparked the momentum, and Lucien was there time and again to pick up chunks of yardage.
Coming into the season, question marks surrounded the receiving corps due to the loss of Jaelen Strong to the NFL and Cameron Smith to a knee injury. Lucien was a name expected to carry some if not most of that load after graduating from UCLA and transferring to ASU, which Graham mentioned as something he was not accustomed to doing.
“It’s hard in that short a period of time to really understand how we do things,” Graham said. “I’m going to tell you, it was hard for him because how we work and how we do things and the discipline and the structure and the rigor, not only on the field but academically in everything that we do. You know, he has been great. What a great kid. He has really exceeded what I thought that that would be able to do in that short period of time.”
Arizona was forced to put more attention on Lucien in the secondary, and with ASU’s plethora of weapons and sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage both eclipsing 100 yards on the ground, the tempo and explosiveness that had been lost at points this season, came with regularity against the Wildcats.
The passing game was nearly all Lucien and redshirt junior Tim White, who snagged eight receptions for 67 yards. No other Sun Devil had more than one catch.
And while it wasn’t ASU’s most balanced attack, the precision and connection between Bercovici – in his fifth year in Tempe – and Lucien – a first-year Sun Devil – made all the difference. That relationship is what convinced Graham to bring Lucien on board, and it was that relationship with all the seniors that allowed Lucien to finally break out and lead ASU over Arizona.
“The adjustment wasn’t as hard as most people would think just because the senior group that I had,” Lucien said. “They really took me in under their wings as soon as I got here.”
Yes, the Sun Devils are now bowl eligible, and yes, they have one more regular season game against California next weekend, but Graham made it clear throughout this week of practice: This game is carries extra weight.
ASU hasn’t met all of its preseason goals, but winning the Territorial Cup is something the team had on its mind since losing in Tucson a year ago, and amending for that loss is as sweet as it gets.
“The Cup is home, and it’s going to stay here for a long time,” Bercovici said.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org