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ASU Football: Sun Devils comeback effort versus Cal falls short 24-21

NCAA Football: Arizona State at California Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State’s (1-4, 0-2) first road test came Saturday when head coach Kenny Dillingham took his seemingly re-energized squad to play Cal (3-2, 1-1) for the final time as members of the Pac-12 Conference. Untimely penalties and stalled red zone drives costed the Sun Devils in a 24-21 loss.

A fourth-and-goal stop from the Sun Devil defense late in the fourth quarter set the offense up for a signature late game comeback, but with no timeouts and 99 yards to go. Junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet and the ASU offense trotted back onto the field after the Sun Devil defense survived an 18-play Cal drive, hoping to find some magic.

Bourguet, who was 26-for-41 and 344 yards on the day, couldn’t connect on his final four dropbacks, leading to back-to-back Sun Devil conference losses. ASU’s first road loss came on a day when the Devils turned the ball over twice and stalled in the red zone in the second half, settling for six points on two trips.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at California
Arizona State’s offense struggled in the red zone with two major penalties forcing two field goals in the Week 5 game vs. Cal.
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the third quarter, Dillingham’s aggressive mindset left the offense on the field for a fourth-and-2 attempt to no avail. The turnover on downs resulted in a Golden Bears possession within the Arizona State 31-yard line. A risky decision did not go the Devils way with Cal capitalizing with six points just four plays later.

Offensively for ASU, it was two drives in the third quarter deep into Golden Bear territory that led to field goals. It was an illegal substitution and a false start penalty on two fourth down plays in the red zone that forced the Sun Devils to settle for field goals.

Overall, ASU played a clean game, only five penalties for 35 yards went against the team on Saturday. But two penalties in crucial sports for the Sun Devils wasted the limited opportunities on offense that ASU had. Cal managed to control most of the game on the offensive end in the second half, running 14 more plays than ASU.

Late dow execution was the enemy for Arizona State in Berkeley. ASU was just 3-for-15 on third down and 2-for-5 on fourth down.

Especially painful for ASU were the manageable third downs that ASU was not able to convert. Even after junior running back Cam Skattebo’s incredible effort last week against USC, he was held to just 59 rushing yards on 24 attempts against Cal. The Sun Devils were 0-4 on third and shorts (1-4 yards) on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at California
The Golden Bears held the Sun Devils’ ground attack to just 68 yards on Saturday.
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Field possession also played a major role in the maroon and gold loss. Only one Cal drive began within their own 25 yard line with poor play from special teams.

An impressive display in Week 4 brought some hope that a changed offensive look could produce more points. But in the first road game of the 2023 season, Dillingham and the Devils failed to execute with consistency. Untimely errors and an overall sluggish performance at Cal dropped ASU to 1-4 on the season.

Arizona State will look to correct their course for the season with a home game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7 against Colorado.