ASU rewind: Win over UCLA raises Territorial Cup stakes
NOV 24, 2013 11:00p ET
No. 17 ASU beat No. 14 UCLA at the Rose Bowl to clinch the Pac-12 South and eclipse its 2012 win total, and thanks to UA's upset of Oregon in Tucson, the Sun Devils now have the chance to host the Pac-12 title game against Stanford.
All they have to do is beat the Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday and their rematch with the Pac-12 North champion Cardinal will be held in Tempe. But if history is any indication, that won't be easy, even if ASU is widely considered the superior team.
Something strange happens when these two teams meet, as the playing field often seems leveled. What has happened before for each team tends to be thrown out the window heading into this one.
"The most important game of the week is next year," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "It don't matter what we've done up to this point. We lose this one, it's an unsuccessful season."
That's how much bragging rights mean to these teams. But ASU ultimately has more to brag about having won the South. The division title is ASU delivering for the first time on Graham's promise of championships. The win itself was a testament to the new culture Graham has established in just two seasons.
Opportunity still knocks for the Sun Devils, though, as the chance to host the third Pac-12 Championship Game could be a game changer. The Sun Devils are 6-0 at home this season heading into their final home game.
Before we jump head first into rivalry week, here's one more look back at ASU's dramatic win over UCLA.
It felt like ASU's 35-second touchdown drive just before halftime to go ahead 35-13 was the dagger, and it ultimately turned out to be. UCLA did battle back and outscored ASU 20-3 in the second half, but the touchdown just before the half, a 19-yard catch by Jaelen Strong, proved the difference.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly. It's hard to ignore running back Marion Grice's 268 all-purpose yards, but Kelly was simply lights-out. He killed UCLA with his legs (99 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries) and his arm (225 yards and a touchdown while completing 20 of 27 passes). Perhaps more impressive, though, was his field and sideline leadership. Kelly helped ASU remain poised as UCLA rallied late in the game.
Linebacker Chris Young. A team-high 13 tackles and three were are impressive enough, but the magnitude of the plays Young made were what mattered most Saturday. With UCLA at ASU's 7-yard line and poised to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, Young sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, forcing the Bruins to attempt a field goal, which missed. Young also sacked Hundley on the first play of UCLA's last drive.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
-- The Sun Devils have turned a corner. Sure, there is more to be won this season, but the Pac-12 South title on its own is indicative of the change that has occurred in two seasons under Graham. Saturday's win was easily the biggest in years for the program, and it was possible because of the new culture in place.
In the past, ASU teams put themselves in position for success only to let down; this team finished. Past teams struggled on the road; this team has won four of its last five Pac-12 games away from home. Past teams looked defeated when adversity hit; this team stands tall and continues to fight.
It's all part of Graham's grand plan to accelerate the building process. Most new coaches expect and need three to five years before truly demonstrating progress, but Graham has refused to buy that. He insisted his team could win now, and it has. Graham laid a foundation of discipline and accountability last season and this year built a structure of belief and determination.
Certainly, Graham had help, inheriting many talented players recruited by Dennis Erickson and starting his tenure as a Pac-12 coach at the same time traditional power USC began to fall. But Graham has gotten more out of these players than the previous staff, and after 24 games, he has his team playing for a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl berth.
The Sun Devils have turned a corner, and the next two weeks will determine just how far around that corner they can get.
-- ASU is done with stage fright. It happened at Stanford and it happened in Dallas against Notre Dame: ASU gets on the big stage and falls flat. This time, the Sun Devils took the stage -- national television at the Rose Bowl with the division at stake -- and delivered a memorable performance.
It appeared ASU might be in for another heartbreaking letdown Saturday night as UCLA fought back in the second half, and if it had, we'd be having a very different conversation, but the bright lights didn't get the better of the Sun Devils this time.
It probably helped ASU to experience the aforementioned losses to Stanford and Notre Dame this season. Losing to a top opponent and losing a winnable game in a marquee venue (Cowboys Stadium) seemed to do something to the Sun Devils, who accomplished the opposite of both Saturday.
It probably helped as well to exorcise some road demons in a come-from-behind win at Utah two weeks ago. At least in the first half Saturday, ASU didn't look like a team that struggles on the road.
The next test: Winning the Pac-12 title game, wherever it ends up being played.
-- Special teams are an issue again. It seemed for a while that ASU had mostly sorted out its special-teams problems, but they were on display again Saturday. Front and center was porous kickoff and punt coverage. ASU allowed 243 yards on returns, 194 of them on kickoffs.
UCLA sophomore Ishmael Adams recorded returns of 58, 49 and 69 yards in the first half alone. On the 69-yarder, a punt return, Will Sutton was the last thing between Adams and the end zone and saved a touchdown.
On top of that, a bad snap on a punt in the third quarter led to a fumble by punter Alex Garoutte. UCLA recovered the fumble at ASU's 15-yard line and scored four plays later to cut the Sun Devils' lead to 35-27.
"A lot of bad things on special teams, but who cares? We found a way to win," Graham said.
He'll certainly take a different tone this week, as special teams have a history of altering the outcome of games between ASU and Arizona.
WHERE THEY STAND
After Saturday's win, in which ASU allowed UCLA to score the most points by an opponent in the past six games and itself scored just three points in the second half, the Sun Devils are down in most categories nationally. With three games left to play, here's where ASU stands nationally:
-- Total offense: 22nd with 472.8 yards per game (up from 23rd)
-- Total defense: 19th with 344.4 yards allowed per game (down from 16th)
-- Scoring offense: 10th with 41.9 points per game (down from 9th)
-- Scoring defense: T-53rd with 25.2 points allowed per game (down from 45th)
-- Rushing defense: 19th with 123.4 rushing yards allowed per game (down from 17th)
-- Passing defense: 49 with 221.0 passing yards allowed per game (down from 39th)
-- Fewest penalty yards per game: 4th with 29.27 penalty yards per game (no movement)
ODDS AND ENDS
-- ASU reached the nine-win mark Saturday for the first time since 2007, when Erickson's first team went 10-2 and earned a share of the Pac-10 title. It was also the Sun Devils' sixth straight win, giving them a winning streak longer than any at ASU the 2007 team started 8-0.
-- ASU improved to 15-0 under Graham when leading at halftime.
-- Quarterback Taylor Kelly surpassed 3,000 passing yards on the season Saturday night -- he has 3,063 currently -- and joined Andrew Walter as the only quarterbacks in school history to do so in multiple seasons. With three games left, Kelly needs 140 yards to have the third-highest single-season total in ASU history. He is 814 yards shy of the second-highest total.
-- Kelly also tied a school record Saturday, matching Mike Pagel's 1981 record for points responsible for in a season at 198.
-- Freshman placekicker Zane Gonzalez nailed a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter Saturday to extend his streak of field goals made to 15. The ASU record belongs to Thomas Weber, who hit 17 straight in 2007.
-- Carl Bradford's interception return for a touchdown at the start of the second quarter was the seventh interception returned to the end zone under Graham. ASU had four total in the previous three seasons.
-- The Sun Devils had a season-high nine sacks Saturday. One was a team sack, and the other eight were spread out as follows: Young (3), Davon Coleman (2.5), Sutton (1), Bradford (1), Gannon Conway (0.5).
-- ASU now has three players in the top 10 in tackles for loss in the Pac-12: Coleman ranks fourth, Bradford eighth and Young ninth.
-- Redshirt freshman linebacker Viliami Moeakiola was held out for a second straight week with a knee injury. When Anthony Jones was injured on a second-half play Saturday, the Sun Devils were suddenly without a spur linebacker. Cornerback Lloyd Carrington took over at spur but only had to do so for one play, as Jones returned.