Brandon Aiyuk received the potential game-tying score from Jayden Daniels on a fourth-and-eight conversation. The offense trotted back out with 1:40 left in the game. Not scared off by Oregon State’s timeout after Arizona State showed its set in its win-or-go-home play, the Sun Devils were going for it.
Herm Edwards had made his decision based upon the results over the past few weeks.
“I told the team I don’t play to lose,” Edwards said. “...I don’t second guess myself on that one. You got to play to win.”
A choice influenced by a team desperate for a win.
The selection to go for a two-point conversation, more importantly the win, for a team in a three-game skid was certainly justified by comments made by players and coaches after the game.
The play selection was much harder to condone.
Daniels took the snap and turned to his left, a pitch to Eno Benjamin. The star running back never had a chance and he knew it. The space for him to reach the outside closed quicker than Benjamin could blink. He pulled up in desperation, a throw into the end zone. It did not end in beautiful chaos, an interception, penalty and clear miscommunication. The play was ugly.
Arizona State (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) never got possession back. Oregon State (5-5, 4-3) won 35-34 and sent the Sun Devils into an even larger tailspin than they had been in before.
Offensive coordinator Rob Likens, Edwards and Daniels said the play call was based on the successful two-point conversation against UCLA. The difference between the two, the one that succeeded had Daniels fake the pitch and bootleg into the end zone.
The hope was that the Beavers watched that on film and would overcompensate for Daniels to give Benjamin a more open opportunity to score.
“Just like any call that doesn’t work, yes, I’d like to have it back,” Likens said. “I’m just heart broke for the kids.”
The results of Saturday night’s contest built a facade that Arizona State’s fourth-straight loss boiled down to one play. In reality, the pieces written before the blunder of a two-point try led to the climax.
Benjamin, whose stellar sophomore campaign was kicked started by his performance against Oregon State last year, costed the Sun Devils a chance at tying the game a possession before.
He fought for extra yards on a carry from the five-yard line. Instead of a score, the ball came away from Benjamin. The Beavers recovered in the end zone for a touchback and for the third straight game, Benjamin costed Arizona State a possession.
“It just flipped everything,” Likens said. “..We have to get that fixed. We’re putting the ball in jeopardy too much.”
Luckily for Benjamin, the defense forced a punt for a chance at redemption. The fourth punt of the second half created by the Sun Devil defense was the biggest. Although, their first-half performance put Arizona State in the position it was in.
Another week of a 28-point first half from the opposition required Daniels and the offense to match the Beavers, which they did for the most part.
It doesn’t excuse the defense. Play action killed the Sun Devils in the first half. Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton had a hard time throwing an incomplete pass. Not due to pinpoint accuracy, simply the open space each wide receiver had in the Sun Devil secondary.
For instance, when Isaiah Hodgins, a top-10 receiving yards leader coming into this week, is running down the seam wide open, something went wrong.
“It was their 12 personnel,” Edwards said. “It’s tough because in 12 personnel, what they were doing, basically they have seven or eight-man protections. Two men run routes and do double moves and we were doing a lot of single-side safety because we’ve got eight guys in the box that could run the ball out of that formation and that’s what I said all week. That’s the one thing we’ve got to be able to stop.
When Luton hit Hodgins for a five-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Luton had more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (two). Luton finished 26-for-35 for 288 yards and four scores.
Daniels matched him for over 300 yards and three touchdown tosses himself. But it took time to get going.
The Sun Devils went over the top to Aiyuk in the second half. The 56-yard gain seemed to spark Daniels. On his previous 21 attempts, Daniels only had four throws gain more than eight yards. Seven of his throws after that gained 10 yards or more.
“He got into a rhythm like he normally does and I thought he played really well,” Likens said. “I thought he threw really important footballs accurate in pressure situations.”
Understandably after a two-week absence from game situations, Daniels needed some time to get back to the motions. Despite putting it together and finishing the game with solid stats, Daniels’ own fumble placed Oregon State in a spot for an easier touchdown.
Each side of the ball had its mistake. Each coach. Each player. Four straight losses all completed by a mistake here or there. None though have had a complete game.
“We have yet as a team have a complete game,” Daniels said. “It’s either first half defense got it going, offense is struggling. We got to play a complete game to be able to win.”