(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
With just seconds remaining in the first half, quarterback Mike Bercovici led the Arizona State Sun Devils on a 58-yard drive that got all the way inside the UCLA 20-yard line and threatened to take back the lead. Instead, an attempt to find Jaelen Strong for a go-ahead score was picked off by Ishmael Adams and returned 95 yards for a Bruins touchdown that extended the UCLA lead to 10 with just two seconds remaining.
The play was the unequivocal swinging point of the game, as a 20-17 lead for UCLA could have been erased and was suddenly inflated, leaving the Bruins with all of the momentum at halftime.
“It’s unacceptable on my behalf,” Bercovici said. “I’ve got to understand the situation, we’ve got three points there, we’ve got a great field goal kicker and I can’t put the ball in jeopardy. It’s a learning experience and it’ll never happen again.”
Yet, despite the crucial error that proved to be the most important play of the game, it’s difficult to place much of the blame of the 62-27 loss on the redshirt junior who replaced the injured Taylor Kelly. With Bercovici at the helm of the offense, the Sun Devils managed staggering numbers in everything but the score column.
After the game, ASU head coach Todd Graham said that the UCLA defense couldn’t stop the Sun Devils offense and that the only thing that kept the team off the scoreboard were mistakes. Graham was also very complimentary of the team’s quarterback, despite some errors.
Bercovici, who set ASU records for pass attempts and completions, finished with 488 yards passing and three touchdown passes in his first collegiate start.
“I thought [Bercovici] made some great plays and showed some unbelievable promise for his first game, facing that kind of adversity,” Graham said. “I’m really proud of him and I’m really proud of the character with which he approached it: With toughness.”
The interception to Adams was one of two thrown by Bercovici on the night, although it’s difficult to place too much blame on the quarterback for his first of the night, as it was caught by a UCLA defender who never once managed to locate the ball before it was essentially forced into his hands.
Still, four turnovers for the Arizona State offense is a challenge to overcome and goes against the principles hammered home by Graham on a daily basis.
“I take a lot of credit for turning the ball over,” Bercovici said. “That’s something we don’t do here at this school.”
With one start now under his belt, Bercovici vowed on multiple occasions after the game that he won’t make the same mistakes he made on Thursday. Barring a miraculous recovery by Kelly in the next week, he’ll get a chance to correct those mistakes against the USC Trojans.
“I think [Mike] played courageously and I’m very proud of him,” Graham said. “How’s Mike Bercovici going to respond? He’s going to respond with great character. The guy’s a winner in every way.”