The first half of the Arizona State-Missouri game on Saturday night was not the offensive outburst for the Sun Devils that the Northern Arizona and Illinois games had been. After scoring a touchdown in each quarter against those teams, ASU managed only one touchdown in the opening 30 minutes, late in the first half. They failed to convert all five of their third down opportunities, which led to Missouri having 20 minutes of possession in the half, going 6 for 13 in their third down situations. But it was not the Tigers offense that put up 17 first-half points so much as failures by the Devils. A personal foul on the opening drive erased a fourth down and gave Mizzou new life, which they turned into 3 points via a 46-yard field goal. Later, after a Tigers three and out, Jamal Miles fumbled a punt return, lead to a drive that put seven more points on the board for Missouri. So 10 points were a direct result of ASU miscues: a penalty to extend a drive and a fumble. In the second quarter, Missouri’s E.J. Gaines returned a punt 44 yards after a lateral pass from Marcus Murphy. Their drive started at the ASU 18 yard line, which soon resulted in another Tigers touchdown.
It was at that point that the Sun Devil offense woke up. After passing for only six yards up to that point in the game, Kelly threw for 56 yards on this drive, connecting with D.J. Foster on a screen pass, beating a blitz in the process. This was the first time in the game that Kelly threw with any conviction, completing passes on the first three plays of the drive; also, it marked the first time that DJ Foster received a touch. The combination of the two led to the first ASU score. The defense had played well all game, and the team looked strong going into the half.
The Devils were unable to carry over any momentum from the 1st half, as they went without scoring in the third quarter. Early in the half, ASU was forced to punt from their own 21 yard line. The snap went through punter Josh Hubner’s hands. He recovered and punted the ball a whopping 11 yards to give Missouri the ball at the ASU 31, yielding seven more points – yet even more points by the Tigers that were a direct result of an error by ASU. Missouri would not score again, and 17 of their 24 points could have been easily avoided with less sloppy play. The Devils were able to put some points on the board in the 4th quarter, and Taylor Kelly looked as good as he has all season. He started the game 1-6 passing for only 6 yards. He completed it 13-17 for 171 yards.
There were two key situations late that led to Arizona State’s loss. The first was after the third Sun Devil touchdown. During the PAT, the snap was dropped and the kick was no good. This led to a 24-20 score, which meant that ASU would be unable to tie the game with a field goal. That played a huge part in the game’s ending – on the next drive, they were unable to convert a 4th and goal at the goal line. Had the PAT been good, a field goal would have tied the game. Even bigger than that, and what may have been the deciding play in the game, was a play call on the 3rd and goal just prior. Michael Eubank was in the game and lined up in the shotgun and attempted a quarterback draw. If a draw was the play call, why would the Sun Devils intentionally put them selves three yards further from the endzone by lining up in the shotgun? Had Eubank lined up under center and tried to sneak in, he would have been that much closer, and would have given himself that much of a better chance of scoring what would have been the game winning touchdown.
What should not be lost in the ASU failures is the play of Missouri redshirt freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser. He stepped in for James Franklin and performed exceptionally well. He finished 21-41 for 198 yards passing and 25 yards on the ground. But where he truly excelled was passing the ball on 3rd down, where he was 9-17 for 121 yards and 8 first down completions. Particularly in the second half, he did an excellent job maintaining his composure in the pocket and getting the 1st downs.
All things considered, this was a game that ASU should have won. Granted, they were playing in an SEC stadium, but Missouri is not exactly the SEC powerhouse that schools like Alabama and LSU are. They were facing a second-string quarterback, their special teams gave Mizzou too many chances to score, and there was questionable play-calling late in the game. But there were some positives. QB Taylor Kelly made some fantastic plays with both his arm and his legs, extending plays and completing some perfect passes. Third-string RB Marion Grice made some key receptions late in the game and scored two touchdowns. Safety Alden Darby recorded a career high 12 tackles. Defensive tackle Will Sutton recorded a sack as well as creating constant pressure in the face of Berkstresser. Overall, the Sun Devils showed some late life but were unable to complete the comeback and fell to the Missouri Tigers, 24-20.