Todd Graham preaches the importance of winning the turnover battle, and cornerback Robert Nelson helped the Sun Devils do exactly that with six interceptions this season. Nelson's best pick? It makes an appearance at No. 5 on our "12 Plays of Christmas" countdown.
2 Points: The play changed the momentum of the game
3 Points: The play occurred in a Sun Devil victory
6 Points: The play was a Sun Devil touchdown scored by the defense
8 Points: The play occurred in the 4th quarter of a Sun Devil victory
When the Sun Devils hosted Oregon State in mid November, they boasted a record of 7-2 and stood in firm control of their own destiny in the Pac-12 South. With the UCLA game lingering a week away, head coach Todd Graham admitted that even he wanted to get the Oregon State game over with so the Sun Devils could move on to bigger and better things.
But instead of rolling through the Beavers, Mike Riley's squad proved to be quite the challenge for the Sun Devils. Entering the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils held a 10-point advantage, and the game was far from over.
On Arizona State's first full drive of the fourth quarter, kicker Zane Gonzalez capped off a 13-play, 68-yard drive with an 18-yard field goal. The Sun Devils were disappointed to settle for just three points, especially considering the Beavers' quick-strike ability.
As the Beavers prepared to take possession, they trailed by just 13 points and with a strong kickoff return, they had enough time left to engineer two scoring drives. Oregon State still had the potential to stun the Sun Devils, and hope was very much alive on the Beavers' sideline.
On the ensuing kickoff, returner Victor Bolden carried the ball to the 29-yard line before being brought down by Marlon Pollard and De'Marieya Nelson. The Beavers were all set to start their drive, but a personal foul penalty knocked them back 15 yards and forced Sean Mannion and Co. to take over at their own 14-yard line.
The penalty helped suck the life out of Oregon State, and with 5:16 remaining, the task of a comeback was growing ever tougher. On the first play from scrimmage, Mannion decided to try and gain some quick yards to start the drive off on the right foot.
The Beavers' quarterback took a quick drop back, but locked in on his receiver too early. Cornerback Robert Nelson read Mannion's eyes, and pounced. As Mannion released the football, Nelson had already begun to break in front of the route and the Sun Devil cornerback was on his way to pay dirt.
Nelson intercepted the pass in stride and waltzed 23 yards into the end zone to secure the Sun Devil victory. No Beaver had a chance at catching Nelson on his way to six points and Oregon State no longer had a chance at catching up with Arizona State.
After Nelson's score, Arizona State led 30-10. Finally, the Sun Devils could look ahead to the Bruins.