Through two quarters of play, the fans at Sun Devil Stadium were stunned silent.
The Arizona State Sun Devils exited the first half of their matchup with the California Golden Bears trailing 24-10.
They had gained just 76 yards on 21 rushes—just 3.6 yards per carry. They were allowing 5.58 yards per carry.
They allowed the nation’s leading receiver to dominate their No. 1 defensive back. They appeared to lose one of their star running backs after touching the ball just once.
Not much had gone right through 30 minutes of play. But, as this ASU team (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has echoed through a quarter of its season, this doesn’t matter.
This mentality revealed itself once again during the Sun Devils 51-41 win over the Golden Bears (2-2, 0-1).
In the first half, the California offense rolled.
Cal quarterback Davis Webb—who threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns the last time he faced ASU while at Texas Tech in the 2013 Holiday Bowl—appeared to be en route to once again having his with the ASU secondary.
The transfer quarterback threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns in two quarters, finding Chad Hansen on eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Even after ASU had drawn within one possession with a minute before halftime, Cal sprinted down the field for a deflating touchdown to give the Golden Bears 14-point lead.
Then as the second half started, the frenzy began.
To open the third quarter, the Sun Devils hustled down the field, finishing a drive with a one-yard rush by Manny Wilkins (21-of-30, 290 yards, one touchdown; 23 rushes, 72 yards, one touchdown) to draw ASU within seven.
California responded with a 47-yard field goal to go back up by double digits, 27-17, with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
The ASU offense countered with a 44-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez—one which made him the fourth all-time in NCAA points scored, making it a 27-20 game.
Defensively, the Sun Devils seemingly found its groove.
After allowing Hansen (10 catches, 110 yards, one touchdown) to shred their defense in two quarters, Kareem Orr and the rest of the ASU secondary held limited him to two catches for six yards.
The offense capitalized off the momentum.
Wilkins engineered a seven-play, 62-yard drive which he capped with a three-run touchdown run. It knotted things up at 27 with just under 10 minutes left to play in the third.
But just when ASU appeared prime to take control of the game and give its offense a chance to take the lead, the Golden Bears struck gold.
Facing third-and-9, Webb slung a throw into the flat for Tre Watson, who picked up a couple of blocks downfield before outrunning the Sun Devils defense 74 yards to reclaim Cal’s advantage, 34-27.
The Sun Devils responded, orchestrating another scoring possession to even the game at 34 a piece.
Wilkins connected with Jalen Harvey (five receptions, 83 yards) twice for 27 yards, before Kalen Ballage dropped a wide open catch. Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey then dialed up a couple of runs out of the “Sparky” formation before Cal head coach Sonny Dykes called a timeout with 6:27 remaining.
Out of the timeout, Lindsey called a play-action pass which allowed tight end Jay Jay Wilson to break open down the right side of the field.
Wilkins hit him from 30 yards out, tying the game, 34-34, with six minutes remaining in the game.
Then, finally, on the ensuing possession, the ASU defense drew blood.
On Cal’s first play, Webb stepped back and threw short across the middle of the field. Linebacker Salamo Fiso—making his season debut after missing the first two because of suspension—picked the pass off. The senior returned the ball to the Golden Bears 15-yard line.
ASU couldn’t find the end zone, however Gonzalez hit a 23-yarder to give the Sun Devils their first lead of the evening, 37-34.
Cal’s effort to trade a score was doused almost immediately.
Safety Laiu Moeakiola, who has battled through injury throughout the season, made the biggest defensive play of the game.
Webb stared down his target Hansen, then fired. Moeakiola broke on the ball, snatched it out of the air, then returned the ball 28 yards for a pick-six. ASU took a double-digit lead, 44-34.
Still, Cal wasn’t finished. Webb regained his composure, conducting a 12-play, 75-yard drive to lessen the Golden Bears’ deficit to three points following a 26-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Robertson (4 catches, 103 yards, two touchdowns).
Then, it was the Sun Devils’ special teams unit, which has shined all season, delivered a crippling blow.
D.J. Calhoun fielded the Bears’ onside kick and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, giving the Sun Devils a 51-41 lead with 48 seconds left.
An Edmond Boateng strip-sack sealed the deal for ASU, completing another comeback victory to open up conference play.
The Sun Devils will next hit the road to take on the USC Trojans in The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next Saturday. It will be the Sun Devils’ first road conference game of the year.