To use the parlance of our times, Arizona State's 45-43 loss to UCLA on Saturday sucked.
Coming into the game tied for the Pac-12 South lead, the Sun Devils made several critical mistakes and the defense allowed the Bruins to drive 60 yards in the final 73 seconds in order to kick a game winning field goal.
Yet, as deflating as the result was, there were some great things that occurred in the game that point to better times ahead.
Kelly in the Clutch
Near the end of the first half, Taylor Kelly made a terrible decision, when he tossed up a desperation pass to avoid a safety, and instead threw an interception that soon resulted in a Bruin touchdown that gave UCLA a halftime lead.
However, when the Sun Devils needed Kelly the most, he delivered.
After an impressive defensive stop, ASU got the ball back with 3:36 left in the game, down by six. They took the field at their 44 yard line. Could Kelly deliver?
Oh yes. He completed a nine-yard pass on the first play, then had a fantastic 32-yard run in which he bounced off several would-be tacklers before being taken down at the UCLA 12. Two plays later on a third down, he evaded pressure, rolled right and hit D.J. Foster for the go-ahead touchdown.
Kelly has impressed all season long with his resiliency, poise and performance in the clutch, and there has been no better example of that this season than that drive.
The "DM" of ASU's Run DMC
Heading into the year, the offensive mantra was "Marshall, Marshall, Marshall", and deservedly so. Cameron Marshall was coming off a 1,050-yard, 18-touchdown season. With a run-heavy scheme, he could be even better.
But a hamstring tweak, a tendency to fumble and general ineffectiveness has made his final season one full of struggles. Thankfully for ASU, they've had two players more than pick up the slack.
True freshman D.J. Foster and juco transfter junior Marion Grice have continually proved throughout the season that they are the Sun Devils' best weapons, and Saturday may have been their best effort.
Foster led the team in both rushing (61 yards) and receiving (107 yards), and tied the game with just 1:33 left with a great touchdown grab. Whether it's on the ground or in the air, Foster's speed and explosiveness have been crucial for ASU.
Grice continues to be the Sun Devils' most reliable scorer, racking up three more touchdowns to give him a team-high 12 on the season. He hauled in two screen passes and ran his way in, and he had another hard run on the ground for the other score. He also made a terrific leaping grab for a 28-yard reception on a post to help set up a fourth quarter field goal.
It will be fun to see what this duo can accomplish throughout the rest of the year and in 2013.
Made Field Goals. Yes, Plural
Alex Garoutte. Jon Mora. Alex Garoutte. Jon Mora. Great taste! Less filling!
The carousel of kickers continued this week, with Mora replacing Garoutte as the teams' field goal kicker for the second time in three games, and to the pleasant surprise of every ASU fan, made field goals.
Fans may have been confused by the officials raising both arms up vertically after all three of Mora's field goals, but the junior did in fact connect from 36, 31 and 22 yards.
None of the kicks possessed any real difficulty, but the simple fact that the Sun Devils converted in an area that has been nothing short of horrific is a definite plus.
Josh Hubner Drops Bombs
ASU's senior punter has quietly been putting together a fantastic season. He's shown off his strong leg while also being able to repeatedly pin the opposition deep inside their territory.
Hubner's prowess was on full display on Saturday. His first kick was a beautiful spiral that sent UCLA returner Steven Manfro backwards. Manfro fumbled the ball and ASU recovered it to set up the game's first score. He later had a career best 73-yard boot, and on the day, he averaged 52.6 yards on his five punts.
Carl Bradford Puts The "Devil" in Devilbacker
It was another awful day for the Sun Devil defense. The unit gave up 486 yards and 45 points, none more crucial than the 60 yards they gave up during the final 1:33 of the game that ended with the Bruins' game-winning field goal.
The defense was continually gashed both on the ground and through the air as the absences of Will Sutton and Junior Onyeal—who left the game with a shoulder injury—were severely felt.
One player who did step up his game was Devilbacker Carl Bradford. The redshirt sophomore made nine tackles and had two sacks, giving his 6.5 on the season.
Bradford's continued growth into a top-flight defensive weapon is great news for ASU, and bad news for any Pac-12 quarterbacks over the next two and a half seasons.