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ASU Football: First-half recap, UCLA leads ASU 27-17

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The question was can Mike Bercovici handle the pressure. The answer started as yes, but some crucial mistakes hurt the Sun Devils.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Back and forth the first half went, with plenty of action on both sides.

Jaelen Strong clearly doesn't care who the quarterback is, he'll catch a back-shoulder fade regardless. Bercovici hit him with a 14-yarder on his first third-down play. It moved the chains, and a few players, sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez booted a 49-yard field goal, the longest of his career, put the Sun Devils up 3-0.

On the ensuing drive, Arizona State forced a punt, but D.J. Foster fumbled on the first play of the drive. Once again, the Sun Devil defense showed up, stopping UCLA, sacking Brett Hundley on 3rd-and-6 from the 13-yard line. Junior Ka'imi Fairbairn tied the game with a 36-yard field goal with 6:53 left in the opening quarter.

The next drive was when Bercovici shed the jitters. A 25-yard dart to Strong put the Sun Devils at the 22-yard line, then a screen to Foster put them at the 6. Two plays later, Bercovici took the snap, kept his eyes focused on the right side, where everyone thought he was going. Everyone expect redshirt sophomore tight end Kody Kohl, who ran left and had no one within yards of him.

It was Kohl's first career touchdown reception, and the first touchdown of the season to an Arizona State tight end. 10-3 Arizona State.

The last thing a team wants to do is give up big plays right after a touchdown, but that's exactly what happened. UCLA junior Ishmael Adams returned the kickoff 44 yards. On the very next play, Hundley hit sophomore receiver Thomas Duarte 43 yards, which put UCLA in the red zone.

And for the second straight drive that included the ball at Arizona State's 13-yard line, the defense came up big. Two small plays set up a third down, Duarte got to the flats and looked ready to break for at least a first down, but junior safety Jordan Simone stuffed him and the Bruins settled for another field goal to make it 10-6.

Then Bercovici took over. He orchestrated an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended in a perfect 29-yard bomb into double coverage to sophomore wideout Cameron Smith. It was 17-6, and the Sun Devils looked a like a team who thought they could beat the big bad Bruins.

That is until the Bruins penetrated the Arizona State defense in a seamless way, when redshirt freshman Eldridge Massington took a quick route and ran it 80 yards to the house to make it 17-13. The Sun Devils had had a great game tackling until that point, but redshirt sophomore Salamo Fiso and two others missed badly, and it cost them.

Bercovici appeared to be in control, moving the ball with ease and even running for 12 yards. He found Strong deep downfield one-on-one, normally a safe bet, but this time the jump ball favored the defense, as UCLA redshirt sophomore safety Anthony Jefferson came down with the interception.

At that point, what looked like a shootout turned into a battle of the punters. They traded boots for a few drives, until Hundley showed why he's one of the best in the nation. He completed four passes for 39 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore fullback Nate Iese and even ran for 21 yards. In all, it was a 90-yard drive eating 3:10 of clock and giving the Bruins the 20-17 lead. It was the first time all season the Sun Devils trailed in a game.

Arizona State got the ball back with enough time to move the down field. Bercovici and Strong connected on two-straight back-shoulder passes for 29 yards combined, moving the team across midfield. The drive appeared dead when Bercovici overthrew his man on a third-down play, but a defensive holding kept the drive alive.

The Bruins, as it turned out, benefitted from the holding. The drive continued long enough for Bercovici to hit UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams, who took it 95 yards all the way back, and UCLA finished the half with a dagger of a pick-six, going up 27-17.