(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
In the regular season finale, Arizona State showed every bit of its potential in the first half against the California Golden Bears, but as has been the narrative all season, poor tackling and missed opportunities led to a 48-46 win for Cal.
ASU commanded the ball and tempo from the start, driving 72 yards on 15 plays over the span of 5:28 to open the game with a 21-yard field goal from junior kicker Zane Gonzalez.
Normally an offense focused on upping the tempo to put pressure on the opposing defense, the Sun Devils were run-heavy in the first quarter, rushing 17 times opposed to just eight dropbacks for redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici.
The commitment to the ground game paid off early as the Sun Devils were able to march up the field consistently and kept Cal junior quarterback Jared Goff from finding a real rhythm in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils were in stride for much for the first half, as Bercovici was able to find redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien for a touchdown on three separate occasions. Since last week’s win over Arizona and through the first half of this game, Lucien accounted for 15 catches, 297 yards and four touchdowns. He would finish the game with 200 yards and three touchdowns on eight catches.
ASU went into the locker room up 27-10.
But then Jared Goff woke up.
In the third quarter, Goff went 10-for-18 for 188 yards and two touchdowns and made ASU pay for sloppy tackling and missed assignments. That trend continued well into the final 15 minutes.
ASU missed several opportunities in the red zone that allowed Gonzalez to set a single-game record with six field goals, but with Cal finding the end zone time after time, it wasn’t enough to keep the lead.
Goff led the Golden Bears to five consecutive touchdown drives, and ASU could not do anything to disrupt the crafty field general. The Sun Devils, the nation’s leader in sacks, failed to record a single one in the game.
The Golden Bears racked up 35 points on 29 plays to take a 45-39 lead with 7:43 remaining in the game when Goff found senior receiver Darius Powe for a 49-yard touchdown pass. Goff would finish the night 30-for-51 with 542 yards and five touchdowns.
ASU responded with a nine-play, 76-yard drive, capped by a touchdown catch by redshirt sophomore tight end Raymond Epps.
However, Cal would easily truck down the field and end the game on a 26-yard walk-off field goal by sophomore kicker Matt Anderson.
Player of the game: Jared Goff
While ASU seemed to rattle Goff a little bit early on, forcing miscues and poor timing on routes, the halftime adjustments provided great success for Cal. Quicker, underneath routes did ASU in once again, and the young safeties on the back end failed to make tackles and provide help to the cornerbacks.
Goff was every bit the top prospect he has been made out to be and not any of the turnover-prone quarterback that showed itself from time to time this season.
Biggest concern: Pass rush
Coming into the game, generating a pass rush on Goff and disrupting his rhythm was key for the Sun Devils. Alas, Goff’s pocket presence and quick decisions prevented ASU from recording a sack. The Sun Devils continued to blitz, and Goff continued to make them pay as the secondary made critical mistakes several times on several drives.
Stat of the night: Zane Gonzalez 6-for-6 field goals
This stat isn’t highlighted because it’s an ASU single-game record, but rather that it represents ASU’s missed chances in the red zone. Time after time, the Sun Devils got into the money-making point on the field and came away with three points. While some points are better than no points, Goff’s slew of touchdown drives required much more from the Sun Devil offense.
ASU waits to find out to which bowl it is selected to end its season.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com