By the end of the first half, the Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5, 6-3 Pac-12) looked like a sinking ship.
The Arizona Wildcats (7-5, 5-4) were up 24-14 at the half.
“The first half wasn’t what we wanted and we couldn’t get much going,” ASU coach Todd Graham said.
The case switched almost immediately in the third quarter as the Devils put up 21 unanswered points in the third quarter alone and buried the Arizona offense for most of the half, winning 42-30.
There were plenty of reasons why the Devils were able to pick up the victory and perhaps the biggest reason was how they turned it around at the start of the third quarter.
The Wildcats were without their star quarterback Khalil Tate for most of the half (he returned for one drive), got a three-and-out and on the punt was blocked by Freshman Receiver Curtis Hodges, which set up a one-yard touchdown run by Demario Richard.
When looking back at the game, ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said he felt the team played “very tense in the first half,” but was still confident in his team, telling them he “didn’t think they could score on us” at halftime.
He also expressed the injury to Tate didn’t matter, saying they knew Dawkins was a capable player. Graham said it was how his team was able to get after Dawkins that changed the game.
“We had quite a few sacks. We have three sacks and about seven or eight TFLs (tackles for loss),” Graham said. “Our guys got after it… those two turnovers and that blocked punt was huge ind the game. The second half adjustments on third down. We were able to convert the third down situations in the second half. That really helped us. We were able to get off the field on defense. “
Three plays after that, Dawkins was picked off by junior defensive back Demonte King, and that set up a Manny Wilkins to N’Keal Harry touchdown, giving them the 28-24 lead.
Even when given a gift of running into the kicker to give the Wildcats a fresh set of downs, they still couldn’t get anything done and had to punt the ball again.
This led to the Sun Devils putting together a drive from the their own 25-yard-line that resulted in another Richard touchdown which essentially iced the game. Offensive coordinator Bill Napier said that the adjustments the team made to rush the ball helped fuel this second half comeback.
“The most impressive thing to me was the lessons that we learned throughout the season about keeping our poise and our composure, all of that came to fruition,” Napier said.
Though Arizona made it interesting with a 50-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Devils kept the door shut on the Wildcats, allowing them 27 yards after that drive and then scored one more time with another Wilkins to Harry fade play that ended the game.
Bennett was proud his team “never lost their belief in what we were doing.” For Napier, he was especially proud of how the team “came out and responded” coming out in the second half.
“Credit to our players, credit to our leadership amongst the players, the resolve that they showed at critical times at the game. Every time it got a little tight, we made a play, we executed at a high level and found a way to get it done.” Napier said.
In terms of just pure statistics, the third quarter was just a complete beatdown for ASU as they bullied the Wildcats on both sides, putting up 21 points off 110 yards compared to the 37 yards and two turnovers Arizona produced.