Just a week removed from a 42-14 beating at the hands of USC, the Arizona State Sun Devils beat a top-10 team on the road for the first time since 2002 (anybody remember a guy named Andrew Walter?). The Sun Devils saved their season with a 38-23 domination of UCLA Saturday night in the Rose Bowl.
Here are my takeaways.
1. The Sun Devils Aren't Dead Yet: What a difference a week makes. Just seven days ago, fans and media were ready to write this season off. Even though I wrote a column saying it's too soon to write off ASU, I did not see this team going into the Rose Bowl and beating a top-10 UCLA squad that just blasted Arizona the week before.
While I don't want to exaggerate, this win saved the ASU season. You are not going to win the Pac-12 South by starting 0-2 in conference play with games looming against Oregon, Utah, Cal and Arizona. Not only did ASU win, but they did so in impressive fashion, with a balanced offense and a stingy defense that swarmed UCLA all night. With UCLA and USC both 1-1 in conference play and Arizona sitting at 0-2, ASU is very much in the thick of the Pac-12 South race.
2. The Defense Will Carry This Team: Coming into the season, most of the discussion about ASU revolved around the explosive offense. Mike Bercovici, D.J. Foster, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage seemed to have ASU destined for one of the top offenses in the nation. While the offense is improving, it has been the defense that has carried the Sun Devils so far in 2015.
If you take away their performance against USC - which was plagued by missed tackles and poor execution - the Sun Devil defense has been borderline dominant. Yes, they did give up 38 points to Texas A&M, but the offense put them in bad situations all game and A&M scored a garbage time touchdown late. ASU also had to deal with two triple option teams, which is one of the toughest offenses to prepare for.
On Saturday night, the defense looked fast and aggressive. They swarmed ball carriers and constantly changed looks against Josh Rosen. ASU needs that kind of effort the rest of the season if they hope to contend in the Pac-12 South.
3. Special Teams is a Strength: Matt Haack had his best game as a Sun Devil, constantly setting up his defense in great situations. Five of Haack's seven punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, including one that bounced out of bounds at the one midway through the fourth quarter.
Tim White was electric in the return game, notching returns of 63 and 47 yards, respectively. Yes, Zane Gonzalez did miss a field goal but he made his final two attempts and he was a weapon with his kickoffs. In close games, special teams can win (or lose) you games, ASU seems to be ok with that unit.
4. Mike Berovici looks comfortable: The ASU signal caller played his best game of 2015 and it is no surprise that the team also played its best game of the season. Bercovici went 27-for-44 for 273 yards with two touchdowns and an interceptions. Bercovici likes to spread the ball around, as seven Sun Devils had at least two receptions against UCLA.
Not only was Bercovici in control through the air, but he also broke off a 34-yard rushing touchdown. It seems as if he is becoming more comfortable in his starting roll and he is building confidence, which is a great sign for the Sun Devils.
5. The Desert Hammer Uniforms Are Awesome: Not only did the Sun Devils play well, they also looked really good.