LOS ANGELES, Calif — Before the Arizona State Sun Devils took the field against UCLA, they had already lost something.
The Sun Devils were no longer playing for a conference title Saturday night and through 10 games, they sure don’t look like conference champion contenders.
Arizona State, along with 10 other teams in the Pac-12 have at least five wins. Colorado, UCLA, Utah, Oregon and California each have just five wins.
Fighting for bowl eligibility, the Sun Devils look no better than those five teams and here’s why.
The key is inconsistency.
Wins against then-No. 5 Washington and blowouts in Utah’s own house were clearly possible and weren’t flukes.
In the Pac-12, like any conference, anyone can beat anyone from top to bottom. And that’s exactly why ASU fans thought the Sun Devils would beat USC. When in reality the Trojans are simply a giant leap above and beyond the Sun Devils.
Let’s start with Saturday night.
The Sun Devils completely outplayed UCLA. They were on offense for 36 minutes compared to UCLA’s 24 and ran 98 plays opposed to UCLA’s 78. Arizona State went 11-for-22 on third down, while UCLA converted just six of 16.
None of that mattered though. When the Sun Devils needed someone to step up and make championship-type play, it didn’t happen.
Prior to Saturday night, the Bruins had been outscored 38-0 in the third quarter. That’s when ASU hit two field goals and a touchdown. They could’ve taken charge and won.
Down 21-27 with seven and a half minutes to go in the third quarter, the Sun Devils had 11 yards to gain before the end zone. Manny Wilkins rushed the ball for four yards, before he and Demario Richard carried the ball for a combination of three yards on the next two plays. The quarterback ran the ball twice of three times near the goal line and it wasn’t by design. It was by poor execution.
Down 34-24 with three and a half minutes left in the third, ASU had the ball on the UCLA 3-yard line. Kalen Ballage rushed the ball for a 7-yard gain before he was tackled for a 1-yard loss. On third-and-goal ASU head coach Todd Graham wanted to think things through, so he called a timeout and put in 6-foot-7 receiver Curtis Hodges. Wilkins resumed play and threw a bullet at Hodges’s belt, and it was dropped. The tallest man on the field was targeted below the chest. Again, it was poor execution.
Down 44-34 with seven and a half minutes left, the Sun Devils faced fourth-and-nine from the UCLA 47-yard line. Manny Wilkins heaved a deep pass near the end zone to a well-guarded Kyle Williams. It fell to the floor.
Why they are passing 30-plus yards down the field on fourth-and-9? It’s a question I cannot answer.
Defensively, it was also a nightmare.
UCLA’s 44 points were its most against any team in Pac-12 play this season. Here’s how they did it: chunk plays.
The Bruins had 13 plays for over 15 yards.
ASU had given up big plays before to USC’s Ronald Jones, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and Stanford’s Bryce Love, but Saturday night was different.
Graham explained “we were supposed to make them one dimensional.”
With Josh Rosen back, that couldn’t happen.
Rosen launched a 59-yard pass to Jordan Lasley from the UCLA 24-yard line to the ASU 17 in the second quarter. The drive resulted in a field goal.
Rosen completed a 56-yard pass to Bolu Olurunfunmi in the third quarter. He then ran two yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Olurunfunmi was anything but one dimensional. He led the Bruins with 79 rushing yards and added on 79 receiving yards with Rosen’s help.
The Sun Devils play Oregon State on Saturday. The rough concept about it is if the Sun Devils play the way they did against UCLA, they should beat the lowly-ranked Beavers by a wide margin. They haven’t won a game since playing FCS Portland State on Sept. 2.
Then again, the Beavers haven’t lost by more than a point at home in their last two matchups from Reser Stadium.
If the Sun Devils run 98 plays and score touchdowns on just three of them against Oregon State, they’ll likely win. Against the Arizona Wildcats, that’s a different story.