Herm Edwards’ opening statement included that Saturday was just another Sun Devil game. Continuing the storyline that has followed them all season, the Sun Devils were once again in a fourth quarter game.
Down 31-29 with 3:47 left in the game, Manny Wilkins and the offense found themselves in a familiar position. The second-and-9 play on the second play of the drive, Wilkins found his star receiver N’Keal Harry for the first down. However, after reviewing the play, Harry didn’t make the catch, creating third-and-9. Wilkins couldn’t find anyone on the third down play, he was sacked and stripped of the ball for an Oregon recovery.
“Gave ourselves a chance there at the end. If I give N’Keal a better ball on the deep out, won’t make the catch so hard for him,” Wilkins said. “The kid just made a hell of a play, stuck his arm out at the right time on that fumble.”
The ASU drive started at their own 46-yard line after freshman safety Cam Phillips picked off Oregon’s junior quarterback Justin Herbert on a tipped ball. It was one of four turnovers Arizona State created on the night, but it was the only one that did not lead to points.
Fellow freshman safety Aashari Crosswell intercepted a pass from Herbert with under two minutes left in the first half. He returned it 50 yards to setup a almost lifeless first half Sun Devil offense. Wilkins found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Darby in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown strike. The deficit had closed to 21-13, and the Sun Devils had gained momentum as they headed toward halftime.
The issue was the momentum never stayed for ASU, Herbert and the Ducks decided to be aggressive with 50 seconds left in the half. Herbert, with the help of poor tackling tackle from the Sun Devils, orchestrated a five play, 71-yard drive in 39 seconds. A handoff to sophomore wide receiver Jaylon Redd on a sweep extended Oregon’s lead to 28-13.
Edwards was asked if it he was frustrated that the momentum pendulum kept swinging back-and-forth:
“It was, in the second half we settled down. They had 28 points and all of a sudden we were back in the game,” Edwards said. “I thought with three minutes left we were going to go down and get ourselves in position to either score a touchdown, or either milk the clock down take as much time as we could — didn’t work out for us.”
One constant in Saturday’s conference matchup was ASU’s second half defense. They allowed just 3 points and 85 yards in the second half, compared to 28 points and 364 yard in the first half. Freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson had some reasonability in the halftime change, as he returned to play in the second half after being suspended for the first half due to a targeting call in the UCLA victory.
“Merlin came back, that kind of helped us. I think the adjustments made at halftime, we didn’t play very sound in the first half. We messed up our gaps, they ran the ball on us early. Hit a couple passes on us,” Edwards said. “To hold them in check in the second half, to get back in the game says a lot about our guys.”
In the end, it was who executed better in the most important parts for an offense. Oregon went 7-for-16 on third down, ASU was 3-for-17. Each team had four opportunities in the red zone, and each scored four times. Oregon scored three touchdowns and a field goal, ASU scored three field goals along with a single touchdown. In a football game, some plays matter more than others, in this Pac-12 showdown the Ducks were better on these plays.
“Fell a little short, that’s kind of how it’s been for us,” Edwards said. “We’ve lost games by one score. If you win a couple more of those we’re not sitting in this position, but our record is what it, and fell a little short tonight.”
With ever loss since Edwards became the head coach, a play or two can change the outcome from where the Sun Devils currently stand and where they want to be.
In Eugene the two-point conversation after Wilkins’ one-yard touchdown rush in the fourth quarter to make it a two-point game is one to be questioned. Wilkins faced pressured, but had a enough time to send a ball off to Darby in the back of the end zone. Darby didn’t keep his feet in and the conversation was ruled no good.
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Chase Lucas had Herbert sacked on a third down blitz in the game’s opening drive. Lucas didn’t get the sack, instead Herbert shed Lucas off for a 11-yard rush to pick up the first down. The drive finished as one of the Ducks’ four touchdowns in the first half.
Senior running back Tony Brooks-James biggest contribution for his team was a 56-yard kickoff return. The Ducks only gained 29 yards on the drive after the return, that’s all they needed. The return set them up well enough for a 29-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Adam Stack, the only points the Ducks scored in the second half. The three points off of Stack’s foot ended up being the difference in the game.
The Sun Devils will head to Tucson for their final regular season game against a Wildcats team coming off a 69-28 loss to Washington State. Arizona State will attempt to defend the Territorial Cup, although even if they keep the cup, it’ll just seem like a consolation prize.
Pick a play from any of ASU losses, change it and the Sun Devils could be heading to Tucson next Saturday fighting for a spot in Santa Clara or already having booked a trip there. But there will be no Pac-12 Championship game for ASU, instead Utah will represent the South. The main theme of Edwards’ first season in Tempe, no matter the outcome against Arizona, will be what could’ve been.