Just a win away from bowl eligibility, the Arizona State Sun Devils marched into Pasadena feeling good from their win over Colorado a week ago.
Against the second-worst rush defense in the nation, ASU came out of the gates on the ground and succeeded. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. How did a 14-0 lead turn into a 44-37 loss?
Big plays are still a problem
It feels like it’s been a long time since those wins over Washington and Utah, huh? The Sun Devil defense had issues again Saturday, consistently giving up big plays in the passing and running game. UCLA produced 13 plays of 15 yards or more, two resulting in touchdowns, keeping the Sun Devil defense on its heels.
Those dramatic shifts in field position did more than lead to scores, though. It ensured ASU would never have the benefit of a short field if the defense was able to force a stop, making the offense’s job harder when it was their turn.
Numbers sometimes lie
Without looking at the score and just examining the box score, it appears as though ASU dominated this game. More plays, more yards, more first downs, so on and so forth. And for the most part, they kind of did. The Sun Devils moved the ball reasonably well and the turnover margin ended up tied, but they couldn’t do what UCLA did: finish.
ASU finished three possessions inside the Bruin 10-yard line in the second half and all of them ended in field goals by freshman Brandon Ruiz. That can’t happen when you’re trying to win on the road, especially against a quarterback as good as Josh Rosen.
ASU needs control
The Sun Devils dominated the first 12 minutes of the game offensively, running the ball right at UCLA and controlling the pace of play. When ASU does that, few teams can beat them. But once redshirt junior Manny Wilkins was intercepted and the Bruins scored on it, the way the game was played immediately changed. And when UCLA took the lead on its first possession of the second half, it took the air out of the Sun Devils.
Wilkins threw the ball just 13 times in the first half, as senior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage carried the ball 14 and 12 times, respectively. But once ASU started to feel the pressure of falling behind, the offense shifted. Richard touched the ball seven more times and Ballage did nine times, despite the first half success. Wilkins passed it 24 times, not to mention the pass plays he turned into runs.