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ASU Football: Sun Devils bring uninspiring performance against the Bruins

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Not fun for the Sun Devils

Arizona State v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The final score was far from the truth on Saturday. To a simple box score reader, No. 24 Arizona State’s (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) 42-32 loss to UCLA (3-5, 3-2) can be received as a close contest. The fight on the gridiron at the Rose Bowl featured a quick knockout.

The Bruins looked like one of the best offenses in the country in the first half. Wide receiver Kyle Philips hauled in a touchdown pass from Dorian Thompson-Robinson to go up 21 before the teams entered the locker rooms. Arizona State could’ve packed up their bags and went straight back to Tempe.

A 22-point fourth quarter slowed down an eventual blowout, but it was the only positive stretch for the team that refused to keep emotions in check, a defense that struggled to get off the field and an offense who made a yard seem impossible to gain.

“I told them after the game this is going to hurt,” head coach Herm Edwards said.

The three tasks the Sun Devils failed at on Saturday fell hand-in-hand with one another. Flagged nine times, a week removed from 12 penalties in the loss to Utah, Arizona State picked the worst times to punish itself.

UCLA never punted in the first half. The Bruins faced multiple third and longs, it didn’t matter. Failure to execute or a flag that bailed them out kept each drive alive.

In the second quarter, a Thompson-Robinson pass fell incomplete on third-and-16. He and the rest of the offense nearly trotted to the sideline to trade spots for field goal team. Instead Thompson-Robinson and the rest of the eyes in Pasadena looked toward the referee signaling a roughing the passer against the Sun Devils.

Running back Joshua Kelley two plays later broke off a 16-yard run to scamper into the end zone for one of his four touchdowns.

“For me it was more than the score,” Edwards said. “It was our emotions. We didn’t handle them very good.”

Chip Kelly’s team finished 7-for-14 on third downs and a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth downs. That number skewed by the 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter due to the Bruins attempt to run out the clock. Thompson-Robinson only completed 16 passes, but it felt as if each time he had to throw on a crucial third down, he found a wide open receiver.

“We have got to execute better,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “We are making mistakes thats allowing them to continue drives and that is one on us. That has nothing to do with what we are doing (schematically), it has nothing to do with the other team. If we do our jobs, it s different outcome and we were in positions to make plays and we didn’t make them. We have got to coach them better to make sure they make them.”

On the other side of the ball, the Sun Devils couldn’t find those clutch moments to extend drives.

The Sun Devils found themselves in UCLA territory quickly in the second quarter. They needed a yard after a nine-yard first-down-play at the Bruins’ 33-yard line. A rush from running back Eno Benjamin netted nothing. Neither did quarterback Jayden Daniels sneak attempt after that. They were prepared to go for it on fourth down as well until a false start derailed it.

The next possession, the Sun Devils found themselves in the same spot. A yard needed for a first down on UCLA’s side of the field. The handoff went to Benjamin, and even after review he didn’t get it.

“We couldn’t get third-and-one,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “I’m just going to make that my mission in life for the next week and study that and try and understand that. It’s one freaking yard. To me that the whole football game is us getting one yard. If we get one yard in those situations, we are up here talking about how we won in my opinion.”

That’s the most head scratching part of it all. Likens down 19 in the fourth quarter was given two chances at a two-point conversation after a penalty allowed him another shot at it. Daniels faked a pitch and boot legged in for the conversation. Even the attempt before that had utility player Ethan Long stuffed at the goal line had a lot of creativity to it.

It’s understandable that teams don’t show their best two-point plays early in the season so teams don’t have tape for them down the road. But for a team that needed a spark or simply a lengthy drive, wouldn’t a bit of spice to one of those short-yardage attempts in a closer game be more beneficial than using it to still be down three scores with six minutes left in the game?

That will be for Likens to figure out.

Now the Sun Devils walk into their final bye week needing answers to more questions than they already had. And if they don’t find solutions, the November schedule of the Oregon schools, USC and Arizona has the chance to be filled by four losses.

“Going through this,” Edwards said. “We are going to find out a lot about the young guys in the locker room and the seniors too. Who wants to lead and who wants to step up.”