Welcome to the end of our summer series profiling Todd Graham's best 15 wins as head coach of the Sun Devils. Of the 28 wins that Graham's compiled in his three seasons in Tempe, we counted down the most exciting, important and program-shifting wins of CTG's tenure thus far. Since taking over in 2012 ASU has risen from Pac-12 afterthought to perennial contender, a distinction the Sun Devils will no question carry into the 2015 campaign.
As Graham and ASU enter the new season with championship expectations, our final account of Graham's best victories in his three years brings us to the only championship that the Sun Devils have claimed under him.
No. 1: Nov. 23, 2013 - Sun Devils fight off UCLA charge, clinch Pac-12 South title
After an early-season loss at the hands of Stanford and heartbreaking defeat to Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium, ASU strung together five straight victories to vault themselves into position to win the Pac-12 South title. With only the Stanford loss counting against their conference record, the Sun Devils were in pole position to win the South in the division's third year of existence.
However, the team that ASU would attempt to snare its sixth consecutive win against was another squad on a run of its own in UCLA. The Bruins had lost to Pac-12 powerhouses Oregon and Stanford earlier that season while ASU was only forced to play the latter, and entered their home clash with ASU holding he same record as the Sun Devils but one more conference loss.
Because of their leg up in the conference, Arizona State came into the Rose Bowl knowing all they needed to do was win the game and the South would be painted maroon and gold. But UCLA was still in prime position to win the conference, as a win over ASU would give the Bruins the tiebreaker. The two teams kicked off what amounted to the Pac-12 South Championship game, vying for the right to play for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
ASU elected to receive the opening kickoff, and Taylor Kelly continued his stellar junior season by leading the Sun Devils right down the field, running the read-option with Marion Grice to perfection. Kelly and Grice traded carries as ASU marched to midfield, but it was the 34-yard run from wide receiver Richard Smith that set ASU within striking distance of goal. A pair of Kelly efforts later and he plunged into the end zone to put the Sun Devils up 7-0.
Rather than construct an elongated drive as the Sun Devils had, UCLA opted to go right for pay dirt and struck gold, as Brett Hundley's 42-yard strike to Devin Lucien tied the game right up.
After a D.J. Foster touchdown run gave ASU a slim 14-10 lead after the first quarter, the Sun Devil defense captured the momentum and capitalized on it. UCLA's next drive lasted two plays before Carl Bradford stepped in front of a Brett Hundley pass and sprinted 18 yards for a score.
The Arizona State defense continued to stifle UCLA, and following a 12-play drive that culminated in a Michael Eubank touchdown plunge, ASU looked ready to go into the half leading 28-10. However, after a quick UCLA field goal that left 47 seconds on the clock, the Sun Devils got the ball again looking to end the first half on a strong note.
They did just that, as Kelly worked the Sun Devils deep into Bruin territory, scrambling for 23 yards and finding Cameron Smith for another 20 to give Arizona State a chance within the UCLA red zone with ten seconds left. Rather than immediately send the field goal unit out, the Sun Devils stuck with the offense, and Kelly found Jaelen Strong on a tip-toe catch to catapult ASU to a 35-10 advantage.
A 25-point lead looked to be enough for the Sun Devils, but UCLA wasn't about to go down without a struggle. UCLA's offense began to click in the third quarter just as Arizona State's became anemic, and a pair of rushing touchdowns for the Bruins coupled with stops on defense pulled them within 35-27.
The ASU attack that had been so potent in the first half died down in the second half, and only a Zane Gonzalez field goal to end a 13-play drive scored for ASU after its 35-point first half barrage. Leading 38-27 entering the final period of play, ASU either needed clutch offense or suffocating defense to capture the South title.
Its defense was up first, and they failed the fourth quarter's first test, allowing a fourth down conversion to the Bruins on a trick play, giving up the first down on a 18-yard reception by defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. Even after a holding penalty left the Bruins with a 2nd and 19, Hundley found Shaquelle Evans for a 27-yard touchdown to slice the ASU lead down to five points following an unsuccessful two-point conversion.
Arizona State failed to rebuild its buffer, and punted away to the Bruins with 3:21 left knowing that allowing a touchdown would likely lose the game for the Sun Devils. UCLA picked up an early first down on a 15-yard catch from Evans, but a pair of holding penalties crippled the Bruin drive. Needing thirty yards for a first down, the UCLA offense threw out its playbook and resorted to desperation, desperation that wasn't met with a miracle. ASU took over on downs and sat on the ball to wrap up the program's first Pac-12 South title.
WHAT IT DID FOR ASU: The flowing champagne from the elation of the UCLA win was met with a hangover the following week in the Pac-12 Championship, but the win remains the highest point of the Graham era. ASU had dethroned the only champion the Pac-12 South had known, and placed itself in the conversation with USC and UCLA as the top teams from the South that could eventually upend the teams from the North.