Instant Analysis: ASU 41-34
By Gary Randazzo
Whatever happened to just a good old-fashioned punt?
An otherwise encouraging season went awry Saturday in Tucson as the Sun Devils overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to roar past the Wildcats, 41-34. Arizona had a disastrous final quarter that included two turnovers and a blocked punt as Arizona State too full advantage of the Wildcat miscues to score 24 unanswered points and take back the coveted Territorial Cup.
The turning point came with Arizona driving inside the red zone and leading 27-20. With just under nine minutes to play, Wildcat quarterback Matt Scott moved left on a keeper, leapt over one defender but soon collided with several others. ASU not only stripped the football lose, but proved fortunate as the ball careened all the way to the ASU 44-yard line before being recovered by the Sun Devils. ASU quickly marched 55 yards for the game-tying score. Arizona’s ensuing possession resulted in a quick three and out. On the punt, Kyle Dugandzic’s kick was blocked and recovered by ASU, setting up a first-and-goal. The Sun Devils scored on a Cameron Marshall rush from eight yards out on first down to put ASU ahead 34-27. ASU would never trail again.
How Game Was Won
The Sun Devils (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) trailed 27-17 entering the final period. However, everything changed in the final 15 minutes as ASU outscored Arizona 24-7 in the fourth quarter to win 41-34. ASU pulled to within seven points on a 39-yard field goal from Jon Mora with 11:39 remaining. Arizona did not seem fazed though as they took the ensuing kickoff and quickly moved down the field in large part on two key runs by sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey. First, Carey fought his way for a tough 5-yard gain to convert on third down. Carey then broke off a 35-yard run to move the Wildcats into scoring possession. However, Arizona’s Scott would then fumble while fighting for extra yards inside the red zone. The loose ball bounced and tumbled all the way out to the ASU 44-yard line before being recovered by the Sun Devils.
ASU took advantage of Scott’s miscue and soon after scored to even the game at 27-27 with 7:17 left.
Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) seemed to buckle under the pressure as the Wildcats were forced to punt on their next possession on a quick three-and-out. Dugandzic, who has made rugby-style punting an art form this season, finally had a kick blow up in his face as the Sun Devils broke through the line and blocked Dugandzic’s punt. ASU would recover at the Arizona 8-yard line, and would then score on the next play from scrimmage as Marshall ran untouched into the end zone for a 34-27 lead.
The Wildcats continued to shoot themselves in the foot as a Scott interception was returned all the way to the Arizona 1-yard line with 3:17 to play. ASU would eventually score on a third down plunge to break the game open 41-27.
Scott and his Wildcat receivers struggled throughout the game. Whether it was timing, route miscommunication, dropped passes, or interceptions, the Arizona passing game was “off” the majority of the night. Scott, a fifth-year senior playing in his final game at Arizona Stadium, completed just 19-of-39 passes for 230 yards. He did throw three touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. At one point in the second quarter, Scott went 1-for-9 passing with two interceptions.
Arizona’s ground attack was an entirely different story. The Wildcats rushed for 292 yards, and this time it was a group affair. Carey was amazing again, accruing 172 yards on 25 carries. However, he was limited in the second half following a neck strain. In his place, Daniel Jenkins gained 78 yards on 22 carries while Scott rushed for 42 yards on 11 totes.
ASU was not to be outdone, though. The Sun Devils amassed 269 rush yards, led by Marion Grice who had 156 yards on 18 carries. Grice also scored three rushing touchdowns.
Despite the flailing fourth quarter, Arizona did not give up.
Scott led the Wildcats on a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took only 56 seconds off the clock to give Arizona a fighting chance. However, Arizona’s onside kick with 1:54 remaining rolled out of bounds. With no timeouts left for Arizona, ASU took a knee on three consecutive snaps to run out the clock and win the game.
Arizona outgained ASU on the night 522-460, and had 17 more first downs (37-20). In the end, turnovers cost Arizona dearly as the Wildcats gave the ball away four times, all from the hands of Scott who threw three picks and coughed up the game’s most critical fumble when Arizona looked as if it would score to push the lead to 14 points with a little over eight minutes to go in the contest.
Stat of the Game
Turnovers are back breakers, and losing the turnover battle often results in losing the game. This was such in Arizona Stadium as the Wildcats turned the ball over four times. To prove how important “protecting” the football is, Arizona outgained ASU for the game (522-460) and had a whopping 37 first downs to ASU’s 20. In the end, nothing accomplished by the offense mattered as all four turnovers game at crucial moments in the game that served to swing momentum in ASU’s favor. To ASU’s credit, they took full advantage by turning all four Arizona miscues into points.
Player of the Game
ASU running back Marion Grice gets the game ball with 18 totes for 159 yards. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, fighting through injury deserves attention as well. Carey gained 172 yards on 25 carries Saturday to continue to lead the nation in rush yards.
Two things. First, apparently ASU’s Todd Graham has the same “dumb” luck as LSU’s Mad Hatter. Graham burned all six of ASU’s allotted timeouts when Arizona had the football. Worse, ASU was out of timeouts with 10:35 remaining in the fourth quarter. The gamble worked though as ASU didn’t find itself in a situation late where a timeout was needed. Graham can thank the Arizona for that as the Wildcat defense folded like a lawn chair and Arizona’s offense decided to get careless with the football.
Second, I’ve always been critical of the rugby-style kick. However, I’m man enough to admit that it does serve its purpose. After all, Dugandzic is an outstanding punter and has used the rugby kick to full advantage. HOWEVER, Dugandzic is a great punter and is very capable of booting a big one at any time. Where I find fault in Rich Rodriguez and the nine other Arizona coaches that “share” in the special teams responsibilities is that rolling out your punter when he’s standing inside your end zone is simply not smart. First and foremost, you just want to get the ball off and away. The rugby-style kick delays that goal by seconds and tonight in may have denied Arizona a victory because if momentum hadn’t swung prior to that blocked punt, it most definitely swung after the blocked punt.
What it Means
What it means is as much as things try and change in Tucson they inevitably remain the same. Why should Arizona go 8-4 in the inaugural season of a new coach? It was stupid, dare I say wishful thought by Wildcat fans worldwide. Since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, Arizona has been living out Murphy’s Law from year to year, regardless of head coach. Even in the memorable Trung Canidate years when Arizona might backdoor its way into the Rose Bowl, it took a fluke loss in a Hurricane-delayed game by UCLA at Miami for Murphy’s Law to kick in. Tonight, it was slightly different, but Murphy was drunk and watching somewhere as the Wildcats were ever-so-close from slamming the door on ASU until Scott’s leap and fumble turned the game entirely around.
Now, with tails between the legs of the Wildcats, Arizona will limp into some obscure bowl game in some obscure city on some obscure date that will feel like ages before the big boys take to the gridiron on New Year’s Day.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. I do say this with a grain of salt as falling to the Sun Devils ranks well ahead of root canals, getting stung by a wasp on your tongue, and getting impaled on a rusty rod-iron gate. The good news is that Arizona did accomplish great things this season and were oh-so-close to winning as many 9, or even 10 games when you consider tonight’s setback and nail biters against Stanford and Oregon State. Ka’Deem Carey has proven to be an incredible running back, one that will suit up as a Wildcat for two more years. Tons and tons of underclassmen played major minutes this season and will be that much better in the years ahead. There’s more, of course, but the point is the ASU loss should not entirely blind Wildcat fans to what’s happening in Tucson.
My only concern is that guy Murphy and his stupid laws that seem directed specifically at Arizona football. If he would just butt out of things down in the Old Pueblo, Arizona just might have itself a grand old time in the seasons ahead because under this new regime, the guys play fast, they play hard, and more times than not they play well.
Follow me on Twitter @garyrandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.