The Cup and South Go To UofA

Big plays, hurting players and points left on the field doomed the Arizona State Sun Devils this afternoon as they fell to the #12 ranked UofA Wildcats in the annual Territorial Cup battle, 42-35. Once again, the big play doomed ASU as they gave up scoring plays of 72 and 69 yards in the loss. Combined with this win and Stanford’s defeat of UCLA, the Wildcats will travel to Santa Clara next week for a rematch with the Oregon Ducks in the PAC 12 championship.

Last minute word from the ASU bench before game time was starting free safety Jordan Simone being scratched for health reasons. Less than a minute into the game Taylor Kelly was sacked by certain All America middle linebacker Scooby Wright III and his fumble was scooped up by Anthony Lopez for a 25 yard rumble to put UofA up 7-0. ASU Coach Graham was very explicit all week leading up to the game, the Sun Devils HAD to win the turnover battle to win the game. Sun Devil QB Taylor Kelly still hasn’t fully returned to his pre-injury form as his running ability, pocket awareness and passing accuracy have all been less than stellar since his return.

In addition to Simone being out, the Sun Devils also lost starting center Nick Kelly and SPUR Viliami Moekiola. There is so much to be said about the age old attach, ‘Next man up’, but when your already young defense is starting 4 freshmen at anytime its difficult. “We had four freshmen out there at times”, Coach Graham said. “I can’t ask anything more of those guys on defense, they played their hearts out”.

ASU returned the favor of a sack/fumble/TD late in the first quarter with a Demetrious Cherry sack and rumble into the end zone. But unfortunately, UofA came back with a 69 yard Samajie Grant TD throw from Anu Solomon on a very poorly played ball by defensive back Damarious Randall. Something Randall has had happen a quite a few times in the last few games. With the always present blitzing and man coverage, Randall has been burned a lot by trying for the ‘big’ play instead of the safe coverage.

With a drive starting at the end of the 1st quarter, ASU was able to drive 75 yards and connect with their star wide out Jaelen Strong to tie the game up at 14. Another score by each team ended the half all knotted up at 21. ASU’s score came on a short field as they recovered a Devonte Neal muffed punt on the 12 yd line.

UofA received the ball in the 3rd quarter and then put up two touchdowns with one including the 72 yard scamper by Wildcat freshmen running back Nick Wilson who finished the game with 24 carries and 178 yards. These two scores created a stir on the Sun Devil bench which led to back-up QB Mike Bercovici to enter the game with a little more than three minutes left in the 3rd. “We needed a spark,” Coach Graham said post game. “I got together with Coach Norvell and decided we needed a spark so we sent Mike in for Taylor”.

The fix was temporary, while Bercovici was able to drive the Devils down for a score early in the 4th quarter, he then threw a costly interception deep in the Sun Devil end which led to the eventual game winning UofA touchdown. Now down by two scores, Bercovici was able to once again take ASU down for another score as he found TE De’Marieya Nelson for a nine yard TD pass leaving 5:02 on the the clock. A quick three and out as the Wildcats got conservative, gave the Devils the ball back with 2:56 on the clock.

The final drive by ASU was set up with a nifty 18 yard punt return by Kyle Middlebrooks. 57 yards away from tying the game up. With an interference penalty saving the drive on 3rd and 19 the Sun Devils were only able to get to the Wildcat 40 before turning the ball over on downs. Bercovici post game, “It was awful. It should never be that way. Obviously winning in November is tough because it’s what defines champions.”

The loss kept the Sun Devils from back to back 10 win seasons, but it also cost them a chance to return to the PAC 12 Championship game as South Champs. Jaelen Strong once again demonstrated how he is one of the elite wide outs in college with his one handed TD grab as well as his efforts despite showing signs of being dinged up. Todays game also put both Strong and running back DJ Foster over the 1,000 yard mark for the season. Overall it was very typical Territorial Cup game with weird plays, huge momentum swings and a edge of the seat finish. Coach Graham finished his post game presser with this comment, “We won’t ever be less talented moving forward than this year.” Nice thoughts, but doesn’t hurt the sting of this one in the Old Pueblo. Next up? A Bowl destination TBD.

Corralling the Cougars

Many questions on how the Sun Devils would rebound from the crushing defeat to the Oregon State Beavers last week were answered this afternoon as ASU defeated the Washington State Cougars 52-31. Although the Devils trailed at half time, they found their stride in the second half by outscoring WSU by 24 points.

In an exact opposite of the game last weekend in Corvallis, the 61 degree afternoon was a perfect setting for ASU’s senior day. “We are proud of our seniors. We are proud of our program”, stated Coach Graham. “That was our 27th win in three seasons”.

The first quarter featured a feeling out period with the only scoring being a back up Cougar quarterback Luke Falk one yard run. The quarter ended with a Demarious Randall interception that led to DJ Foster 17 yard scamper to pull the Devils even early in the 2nd quarter. The interception would be the first of four thrown by the young Cougar QB. “We basically have an attacking style defense”. A post game Randall stated. “With our great crowd that we have here and with just a lot of noise, the other team really can’t communicate a lot whenever we’re doing a lot of skimming and scheming. So that’s kind of hard for the offense.”

While the first quarter slugged along, the second quarter was the exact opposite as the Cougars put up TD drives of 75 and 80 yards. ASU featured a 76 yard drive of their own before the defense stepped up again as Marcus Hardison snared an interception of his own to set up a quick and tidy 2 play drive ending with wide out Frederick Gammage’s first touchdown catch. WSU closed out the half with a FG and led the Sun Devils 24-21 at the half.

The third quarter was the opposite of the first as DJ Foster scored ASU’s only TD off another Falk interception to take the Sun Devils first lead of the game 28-24. Taylor Kelly commented on his defensive help today. “It helped us out tremendously. Field position was what this whole game was about. I can always count on them to give us great field position; whether it’s a turnover, or turnover on downs, our defense is an attacking defense and I love to see what they do.”

The fourth quarter was an explosion of ASU offense as Cameron Smith scored his 2nd TD and DJ Foster put up his third score of the game. With the exception of a very late TD, the Cougars were thoroughly dominated in the second half. “Cam Smith made some explosive plays. DJ Foster came to play like he always does every single game”. Coach Graham on his offense. “Deantre Lewis stuck out for me, he did some nice things on the field. We had a lot of drop balls that should not have been dropped. But it was 52-31, that is all that matters.”

It may have taken a little bit to get started but the Sun Devils offense as well as defense finally shook off the shadows of last weeks defeat. This was a game the Sun Devils should have dominated and they did, setting up a monster showdown in Tucson next weekend for the Territorial Cup. “We are going to treat it just like every other week and we’re going to attack it, we’re looking at it like it’s a Pac-12 Championship game”. Taylor Kelly on the UofA game. “It’s down in Tucson on a Friday afternoon, so we have to start preparing tonight and get to work.”

Another “first” – an Arizona Elk

My friend John Greiss was AZGFD’s 2013 “Mentor of the Year”, and that was no mistake. John has been in on dozens of hunting “firsts”, for nearly every species, and all over Arizona. He was in on my daughter Mikaela’s first javelina, he led the way for my first Coues, and last spring he helped me with finally – my first javelina.

John really liked the idea of me going 3 for 3 on Arizona big game tags, so he was all about strategy on the elk draw. “Put in with me for the late season 22 south tag”, he said. “You’ll likely draw, and we’ll get you a bull.” Lo and behold, I drew that tag along with John and our friend Miguel. From the moment I saw the draw results, the excitement started to build.

John spends a ton of time in that Unit, and between hunting trips, scouting, and other outdoor adventures, he was confident we would score. In the old days, “the curse” would have had me stymied, but I was 2 for 2 with John, so the excitement was there for months. I started a quest to lose weight (ended up losing about 35 pounds), got side-tracked with a heart-health scare, had a job change, and finally, a bunch of back issues. As a matter of fact, I hurt my back bad, 2 weeks before the hunt and it was bad enough I was pretty concerned I wouldn’t be able to hunt. Luckily it had eased enough that the morning after Thanksgiving, I packed my truck and was on the road to Tucson. I only had Friday through Sunday to hunt, so the pressure was on!

John and good friend RL Gray had been watching bulls for a couple of weeks, and RL’s wife Sherri had shot an awesome bull in that unit during muzzleloader season. By the time I got there, they had a plan.

By 7:30 or so I was on a hilltop near Payson, helping glass for elk. My hunt was upon us! By mid morning the guys had spotted a couple of cows, a 4×4 and a spike. They asked if I wanted to chase them. I said to John “you tell me, what do you think?” John said he thought we could do better, and that we should pass for now, and that’s what we did. The afternoon was relatively uneventful, and the next morning we were up and at it early again.

It wasn’t long before we heard from John that he had a good bull located. He was on a point a couple of miles away, so RL and MIguel and I loaded up and made our way over towards him. He watched the elk the whole time, who were nonchalantly moving up a hill, away from a waterhole that we knew was in that area. He had a good 5×5, a spike, and a couple of cows located. RL and I started working our way around the bottom trying to get set up for a shot. Finally we had him spotted! RL was on him and I was getting set up but he moved into some brush. We reset, RL helped me get lined up and by the time I settled down,got my sight picture, moved off the safety, started my trigger squeeze…. a cow stepped directly behind him!He was quartering away up the hill and the cow was located in such a way that had I missed or passed through, I might have hit her. Arrrggghhhh!!! At that point he was near the top, and they ambled up over and out of sight. I was mad,and frustrated that I took too long and at the same time, glad I didn’t take the shot once I was ready.Later that afternoon we saw a spike and 2 cows in a different spot, but no shot opportunity. In the evening, John was in another area, and Miguel glassed up a 4×4, 2 spikes and some cows, but they were way too far away to chase, at last light.

We were confident with all the elk we were seeing, that Sunday we would have a great chance. The morning was odd. Miguel and John went one way, RL and I another. In spite of the fact we hadn’t seen a ton of cows and the days prior, we saw between 20-30 cows and calves in the space of an hour, and then the action stopped abruptly. Nothing was going on, and RL had’t had any sleep. His house wasn’t far away so he suggested a pit stop for lunch and a nap – so off we went. Miguel and John checked in and said they were going to check another spot, then meet us back up at the original hill for the evening shoot. We had a couple hours so RL was snoozing on the couch and I was watching a football game when the phone rang. It was John. He said “I got bulls”. RL said “We’ll be there in 10 minutes” and we scurried out the door.

To make a long story not quite so long, John walked RL and I into shooting position. We were fighting a stiff breeze and it was tricky getting set up. There was a spike and bigger bull feeding in the manzanitas. By the time we were ready, it was a 300 yard shot, a pretty good downhill angle. I was shooting a .270 WSM off of my tripod, using a TriClawps shooting aid. The bigger one stepped out, and I shot clean over his back! Ugh. RL was positive I missed, having watched the vapor trail pass cleanly over him. He scampered off, but the spike stayed put. I missed him underneath. I took a breath, shot him, and he took a step and faltered. RL says “He’s down, but trying to get up. Shoot him again”. I found him and could only see his face and brisket through the bushes. I shot him through his brisket. RL said “He’s done”. John was on the radio saying “Bull down!!”

True to form, John did most of the dirty work, expertly dressing that bull and getting every scrap of meat off of him. By pure luck, the bull went down about 120 yards from an ATV trail. I shot the elk around 4:30. With 4 sets of hands, a Ranger, and a lucky ATV trail nearby. I was cleaned up, packed, and on the road towards Phoenix by 8:30 PM

I learned a lot on this hunt, as I do on most of my hunts. I spent a lot of range time last year, getting loads dialed in, a new scope zeroed, and a custom turret by Kenton Industries installed. That was mostly bench shooting though. My whole off-season range-work this year will be spent shooting off my pack, off the Claw, and from sitting, kneeling and standing positions. I know these things happen, but I was not happy with misses, and needing to shoot that animal twice – regardless of how quickly it was over, it was unacceptable to me. I shot a lot in the military and in those days it was open sights – from 100-800 metres. I need practice getting set up quicker and being accurate – off a variety of positions, shooting angles, etc. I never had problems like this in those days. My glassing is getting better. I’m no expert by any means, but I am finding stuff now and then. Practice helps, but like I said – I’m always learning something hunting with these guys.

I am very indebted to John, RL and Miguel. RL did a lot of scouting before I got there, and was a huge help and coach on my hunt – usually operating with little or no sleep. Miguel helped, gave advice and is just a good guy to hunt with. He had the same tag and passed on opportunities so I could get a bull first. John is an amazing friend and truly is a mentor. I’m always learning from him and he is a warrior on these trips, usually doing all the heavy lifting – figuratively and literally. He sacrifices his time, opens up his home, uses his vehicles – to help people hunt. And he loves every minute of it. I need to thank my friend Greg McBride too. He helped me learn to relaod and develop great loads for my rifle, he always has good advice, he’s a good shooting coach and finally – an awesome taxidermist too.

Ironically, in the weeks leading up to my hunt John kept asking me what kind of bull I was looking for. “Anything but a spike”, I’d say. “Spike elk look weird”. Well, we all know that our standards go down as the hunt draws to an end and honestly – I think my spike elk looks just fine! A muley and a bear are on my bucket list for the coming year. Truth be told though, I’m already anxious for my next elk hunt.

Nothing Fresh About Frozen Reser

In what everyone considered a ‘trap’ game for the nationally ranked Sun Devils, turned out to be true as they lost to the struggling Oregon State Beavers 35-27 Saturday/Sunday. With game time temperatures hovering around freezing at game time and eventually dropping into the low 20′s, the Arizona State Sun Devils were shut down in the second half as they watched their National Championship possibilities slip away.

While enjoying a five game win streak, the Sun Devils just never got into gear on this cold November evening. With leadership on both sides of the ball that were use to this cold weather (Taylor Kelly & Jordan Simone) one would believe the Sun Devils would be able to take care of business in Corvallis. Unfortunately, the early injury (possible concussion) to Simone and several misplays on defense, put the Sun Devils into positions they couldn’t recover.

The night quickly got ‘real’ when Beaver running back Storm Woods broke a 78 run to put Oregon State up 7-0. While the defense tried to get over the long run, they picked off OSU QB Sean Mannion as he tried to escape the pressure. Red zone issues continued as the Sun Devils settled for a FG. Unfortunately the defense lapsed again as on the next Beaver drive they scored on a 66 yard Teron Ward run to go up 14-3.

“They came out with more energy than us tonight”, stated defensive back Demarious Randall. That was obvious from the start, and it didn’t get any better as the night progressed. A late first quarter drive by ASU ended with a Kelly to DJ Foster score of 17 yards. 14-10 Beavers.

The offensive outburst in the second quarter would lead many of the Sun Devil faithful to believe they had taken control of the game and weren’t looking back. A 46 yard Kelly to TE Kody Kohl score as well as a 36 yard fumble return for a score by Antonio Longino sent the Devils into the half up 24-14. Although they had a lead, the Sun Devils couldn’t put a semi closing nail into OSU as Zane Gonzalez missed a 30 yarder with a little over a minute left.

The start of the second half featured just a portion of the original spartan crowd, but they were energized and ready to help their Beavers. From the looks of most of the tailgates, Fireball whiskey didn’t hurt the cause. The only score in the 3rd quarter was a Mannion to Victor Bolden touchdown throw that made the game 24-21 ASU.

When you have the ball only six times in the second half and you only come away with a field goal, you have to know the night won’t end well. With star wide out Jaelen Strong being dinged up several times and eventually finishing the game of the bench didn’t help ASU’s either. While ASU’s offensive struggles continued, the Beavers scored on their 3rd 66 yard or more play of the night with a Mannion to Jordan Villamin TD pass of 67 yards. that put the Beavers up one, 28-27.

Forced into a passing situation with 1:38 left in the game and only needing a FG to win, ASU faced an Oregon State defense that pressured and harassed Kelly into a 35 yard pick-6 by Michael Doctor. “We didn’t match their intensity tonight”, commented QB Taylor Kelly. If the wind wasn’t taken out of their sails before the pick-6, then that returned pick surely was the knockout blow. The ensuing Sun Devil drive resulted in a turnover on downs to seal the loss.

Coach Todd Graham echoed both Randall and Kelly in his post game presser. “We weren’t prepared to play. We didn’t respect them the way we needed to”. To hear that from the coach as well as players was really disappointing. Here’s a team that has found a way to win and continue to grow each and every week post UCLA debacle, and then come into a place where they’ve (ASU) not had much success in the last 10 years and openly say they didn’t want it or weren’t prepared enough. Maybe the talk of winning out to make their way into the playoff was premature, but to not be prepared for a struggling team that just recently lost to Washington State has to be on the coaching staff. It’s obvious the Beavers did their homework on the ASU pressure with the three big plays. Although the ASU defense contributed to a couple of scores, the offense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. And its also obvious that Taylor Kelly isn’t 100% as the offense really hasn’t done much on their own the last three games, as they’ve benefitted from the defensive efforts.

Now before I can even imagine the next game against Washington State, I’ll be driving back to Eugene all the while listening to a triumphant Beaver post game show. My numbness from the cold is only equal to the fact that ASU didn’t show up tonight. The biggest test of the year comes next weekend as the Cougars come into town for an 11:00am start in Tempe. Will the players rebound? Will the coaches keep the players attention? Will Taylor Kelly be the pre-injury Taylor? All questions that will be answered in where this team will go the rest of the year.

A National Coming Out Party

With a rare mid day game and a national audience glued to their televisions, the Arizona State Sun Devils broke through nationally as they throttled the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 55-31. Although the final score doesn’t indicate how close the game was as the Irish got within three points with just a little over six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The game started relatively mildly as the both teams traded field goals, but then it just got crazy as ASU’s defense put on a show for the 65,870 in attendance. After receiving the kickoff post ASU field goal, Notre Dame QB Everett Golson fumbled on a sack. Next play featured a 13 yard Taylor Kelly to Jaelen Strong TD pass. Notre Dame’s next possession lasted only one play as Golson was picked off by Marcus Hardison. Two plays later ASU back Demario Richard punched it in for an ASU 17-3 lead.

“The defense had our back the entire game, we needed to show up at the end”. Commented QB Taylor Kelly about his defense this afternoon. That statement couldn’t be any more true as the Devils defense struck again mid way through the second quarter as an errant Golson pass found Demarious Randall who returned it 59 yards to put ASU up 24-3. A late Irish touchdown was the only real mar on the first half as the Devils were up 34-10 at the half.

The ASU defense was so dominant any real offensive numbers were overlooked. Running back DJ Foster went 21-128 and Demario Richard had 13-54 on the ground. Seven different Devils caught the ball with the three scores being distributed among them. Jaelen Strong led the wide out group with a 5-58 game.

Most everyone in the press box was thinking that this couldn’t last into the second half, but one of my colleagues mentioned the inevitable, this game looked a lot like last years UCLA game where the Devils had to hang on for the victory. Never tempt fate as the Sun Devils went scoreless in the 3rd quarter while the Irish gained momentum by putting up a score to make it a 34-17 game. The 4th quarter started with 4th down failed attempt by the Irish, but the following ASU drive was stopped by an interception by Matthias Farley which then led to an Irish score making the game 34-24. A quick four and out by ASU led to a quick two play Notre Dame scoring drive, 34-31 with 6:37 to play.

“I don’t pay attention to anything (except the game) during the game, but when they (ND) made it a three point game, I heard our crowd and said ‘wow’”. Coach Graham in the post game presser. “I think I was a little panicked.”

The Sun Devils showed their champions heart and then proceeded to march downfield on the backs of Foster and Richard as they completed a 75 yard drive to put the game back to 41-31. Coach Graham had this to say about that drive, “Championship teams take the ball and stuff it down their throats and score”.

Notre Dame’s next drive was ended with a Lloyd Carrington pick-6 from 58 yards out. The defense wasn’t done yet as the next Irish drive ended on a sack of Golson to set up a two yard Taylor Kelly scramble to put the Devils up 55-31.

The victory on national television was big, but how they got there was a bit of a struggle in the second half. But it truly showed the heart of this 2014 ASU team. Every game since the UCLA disaster has shown the how resilient the Devils have become this fall. As the Devils look ahead to the Oregon State game, fans will be looking at the playoff committee announcement on where their Devils will be Tuesday night. A broader view of this season is simple, win out and they’re in the playoff.

Photos courtesy of Vincent Marotta

A PAC 12 Defensive Battle

Any observer of the PAC 12 conference is use to high flying offenses and big scores, so the 19-16 Sun Devil victory over the Utah Utes in overtime was an anomaly of rare form. With over 53,000 in attendance, ASU rode the back of their kicker Zane Gonzales and his four field goals to take control of the PAC 12 south division. None more important than the one 36 yarder in overtime.

The continuing problems in the red zone continued tonight for the Sun Devils. Another two first and goals were wasted and ASU had to settle for field goals. Something thats happened more and more over the last few weeks. Another issue that especially drives Coach Graham crazy is the number of penalties with six more tonight. “We’re hurting ourselves with penalties and sacks,” stated Taylor Kelly. In addition to penalties, Coach Graham consistently preaches the importance of ball security. Luckily, this hasn’t been as much a problem as the penalties.

The biggest take away from tonights victory is the continuing emergence of the Sun Devil defense. Ever since their crushing defeat to UCLA, ASU’s defense has grown stronger and continued to have great strides in helping this team go 7-1. Even though Utah’s offense isn’t considered of the PAC 12′s elite, to keep them under 100 yards for the first half is a great effort. Total given up for the game was only 241.

But unfortunately, Utah’s defense has also been stellar this season. Nationally ranked in several categories, the Utes have kept themselves in games long enough for the offense to put away the victory, and thats exactly what happened tonight. Everything except the victory. “A little more man coverage in the second half then we did in the first half, we changed up the zones, a little more three-deep zone in the second half”. Stated Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “The first couple series were really our worst series defensively, but after that we settled in and played them pretty good. Except, like I said, we were a little soft on the run tonight, we are usually much more stout versus the run then we were tonight.”

In a defensive battle, the big ASU offensive highlight was from 17 year old Demario Richard and his 116 yards rushing with 14 attempts. He’s been flashing some greatness this year but tonight was his ‘official’ coming out party to casual Sun Devil fans. This kid is a beast and his has an unlimited ceiling. This will be the first of many opines about this young man in his Sun Devil career.

Zane Gonzalez’s 30 yard field goal to tie it at 16 -16 with 5:47 left in the game was up to that time his most important kick. As the two teams started overtime, ASU chose to go on defense first. With a starting point of the 25, Utah’s PK ‘Automatic’ Andy Phillips was already in range. After three plays Utah moved the ball down to the ASU 18, Phillips lined up and snapped his 35 yard kick left of the uprights. Fortunately, the Utah bench had called a timeout sending Phillips back out for another kick. If lightening hadn’t struck once with a missed chip shot, Phillips then proceeded to over compensate his next kick as he pushed it right. ASU then marched out, ran three plays and sent out game hero Zane Gonzalez for his game winning 36 yarder. “I was just ready and excited for the opportunity”. Gonzalez commented. “I told TK (Taylor Kelly) early on, give me another chance and he set me up and just did what I had to do.” And that he did.

Next up is a meaningless game in the terms of PAC 12 supremacy, but HUGE in regards to national ranking as the Sun Devils welcome Notre Dame to Tempe. With an all-time regard of 0-3 against ND, the rare mid day nationally televised game will be an opportunity for the rest of the country to watch an ASU game. The winner will have a front row seat to reaching the elusive final four playoff.

Windy, Wet and Wild in Washington

In weather that Noah would’ve had problems navigating, the Arizona State Sun Devils escaped from Seattle with a hard fought 24-10 victory over the Washington Huskies tonight. A game time temperature of 59 degrees quickly dropped as torrential rainfall and winds gusting up to 50-60 mph wrecked havoc with the UW campus. So much so, that the bridge/roadway 520 was shut down due to unsafe conditions.

QB Taylor Kelly’s return was most assuredly hampered by the weather, but also by his rustiness having not played since the Colorado game on September 13. Kelly finished the night going 14-25 and 180 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception. With such weather conditions, any kind of offense was a rare with ASU putting up 285 to Washington’s 290. Washington’s only touchdown came on an errant Kelly pass that was returned 63 yards by linebacker John Timu.

The first quarter saw many errant passes, shanked punts and many ‘three and outs’ by both teams. ASU finally broke through on the scoreboard with a 16 yard Kelly to Jaelen Strong pass with 4:58 in the second quarter. A Zane Gonzales field goal with :55 left in the half was the extent of the first half scoring as ASU went into the locker room up 10-0. ASU’s defense combined with the weather it almost looked like that would be all the scoring that would be needed to win the game.

With the Husky running back squad riddled with injuries, converted linebacker Shaq Thompson was the go to guy for the Huskies out of the backfield ending the game with 104 yards on 21 carries.

Mid-way through the 3rd quarter Taylor Kelly was leading ASU downfield when his errant pass in the left flat was snagged by linebacker John Timu and quickly returned 67 yards to make the score 10-7 Devils. What seemed as a ‘solid’ lead now was turning into a dog fight in the elements.

With 12:56 left in the game and ASU still up by three the Huskies switched to an extreme hurry up offense on a drive that started on their own 14 yard line. In a drive that went 80 yards in over five minutes, the Sun Devils defense found their footing inside their own 10 yard line by holding the Huskies to a Cameron Van Winkle 23 yard field goal. All square at 10 with a little over seven minutes on the clock.

Taylor Kelly then reached back and drove the Devils downfield in the nasty weather on a nine play 75 yard drive that was capped off by a unusual 7 yard touchdown pass to Gary Chambers. While getting hurried and eventually taking a blow to the head, Kelly tossed up a ‘anyone’s’ ball in the end zone only to find Chambers come back and dive for the reception. When Chambers was asked about another road win, he replied, “With our preparation we expect to win, on the road or at home”. Coming back to Settle was a homecoming for safety Jordan Simone. Having grown up in the area and attending Washington State prior to ASU, Simone loved the weather. “This is what most of my high school games were like, so this is my normal. The warm weather in Tempe is the stuff I’m not use to. For us and all our brothers on the field, once the kick off happens we’re really to into the game for us to pay attention to the weather”.

ASU’s final score came late in the 4th quarter with less than minute remaining when a scrambling Troy Williams errant throw found ASU DB Armand Perry who returned the favor of a pick six with a 61 yard return. The final score of 24-10 was not indicative of the flow of the game, but then again neither was the ASU USC game and ASU won that one to.

I believe the key moment to the game came early in the fourth quarter. While part time Husky RB and linebacker Shaq Williams had a big game, he couldn’t get it into the end zone with a first and goal from the eight yard line. After three straight rushes, the Huskies settled for only a field goal.

During the post game presser Coach Todd Graham was once again very complimentary of his team and how they support and fight for each other, He also made note of how it was the Gary Chambers catch that set up the USC game ‘Jaelen Mary’ game winner. So it came as no surprise he made the big TD catch to put ASU back in the lead.

With another huge road win under their belt and Taylor Kelly back in the starting line up the Sun Devils can now focus on getting back to Tempe to face another one loss team in Utah next weekend. The Utes also had a big win tonight as they beat the USC Trojans with a last minute touchdown. Focus obviously is on the Ute game, but everyone now realizes the road back to the PAC 12 Championship game is in the Sun Devils control.

Slow and Steady

Still without starting QB Taylor Kelly, the Arizona State Sun Devils put together a complete game plan and cleared away the the ghosts of last years beat downs and defeated the Stanford Cardinal in Sun Devil Stadium 26-10. With the return of kicker of Zane Gonzales who went 4/5 in field goals, ASU victory was never in doubt.

With the temperature in Tempe finally returning to a comfortable 82 degrees, ASU jumped out to a 14-0 lead with scores by DJ Foster and Jaelen Strong. In addition to his one touchdown, Foster also had over 160 total yards while Strong continued with his stellar season with 8 catches for 75 yards. The ASU offense only put up a pedestrian 356 yards but their defense was the star of the show.

Stanford and QB Kevin hogan were only able to scrap together 288 total yards. With wide out Devon Cajuste still on the shelf for the Cardinal, ASU was able to control ‘Mr Everything’ Ty Montgomery to 125 total yards. Just a nugget of his usual performance. If the Notre Dame game for the Cardinal wasn’t a sign to things to come, today was example number two, this offense isn’t very good. The biggest glaring hole was a main back to run the ball. In previous years, backs like Stephon Taylor or Tyler Gaffney were work horses and made this Stanford team run, literally. Without a feature back the Cardinal can’t take advantage of their numerous TE’s and wide outs.

ASU’s total control of this game wasn’t shown by the score as they settled for four second half field goals instead of touchdowns. Stanford’s 4th quarter score by running back Patrick Skov made the score 20-10, but there really wasn’t much concern as ASU’s defense had things under control. The unusual trend of PAC-12 teams doing well on the road wasn’t going to happen tonight as the Sun Devils stood up and made a huge statement in their quest for back to back PAC-12 South titles.

What I found most interesting was the calm sedate demeanor of Coach Graham during the post game presser. Win or lose Coach is usually pretty animated in his post game comments, but tonight was a different animal. He was very slow and deliberate with little emotion in his words. He seemed at peace with the win. One would think he would be ecstatic with the victory but he was reserved and deliberate. After the presser I asked one of the ASU SID staff about coach’s demeanor tonight. I was told that Coach Graham has a great respect for Stanford coach David Shaw. Combine that with the two crushing defeats last year its what created the solemn mood of Coach Graham. The ability to beat Coach Shaw and Stanford handily was a pretty emotional thing and it really showed during the presser. Almost like Coach Graham didn’t want to show him up.

Next up on the schedule are the Huskies of Washington up in Seattle. The weather forecast is for rain and there’s rumors of the return of QB Taylor Kelly. In what was almost impossible to get a road win in the PAC 12 for ASU, the Sun Devils are now poised to continue their road victory streak to four games. Off to the Northwest.


As I sit here in the press box overlooking the dark and empty Los Angeles Coliseum, sweaty and still out of breath from the long and arduous hike up the bleachers from the field, I still can’t believe the Sun Devils came away with a victory tonight, 38-34. Down 34-25 with three minutes left. Back-up QB Mike Bercovici hit Cameron Smith for a 73 yard touchdown pass and then a 46 yard hail mary pass to Jaelen Strong to end the game.

Just nine days from a severe beat down by the hands of UCLA, the Arizona State Sun Devils came into their second game without their star quarterback Taylor Kelly who suffered a foot injury in the win in Colorado. Mike Bercovici, back up QB, went 42-68 for 488 yards against the Bruins, was an experiencing a homecoming of sorts as he grew up just north of LA in Calabasas.

“Words can’t express what that felt like. It was one of the hardest fought games I’ve been a part of. Give them a lot of credit.” Coach Graham said postgame. “They battled. I’m so proud of our team and coaches and how hard they worked and prepared.”

The end of this game was a complete opposite to what appeared to be another Sun Devil defeat in the Coliseum. USC’s uncountable number of dropped passes and numerous badly timed penalties were the only things that kept ASU in the game. But you have to give this ASU squad credit as they didn’t fade, give up or put their heads down until the final gun went off.

In temperatures that rivaled the Valley of the Sun, the Sun Devils special teams started off where they left off against the Bruins a week before, awful. A 53 yard punt return by USC’s Nelson Agholor early in the 1st quarter was the game’s first score. A couple of ASU scores by Biletnikoff nominee Jaelen Strong and a newly popular ASU two point conversion put ASU up 15-7 half way through the second quarter.

Going into the second half only down by two, the Sun Devils appeared to be posed to jump on the Trojans and leave Los Angeles with a much needed road victory. An exchange of field goals in the 3rd quarter sent the game into the fourth quarter with only a two point differential. Little did anyone realize that the fourth quarter would produce almost the same amount of points that was scored in the first three quarters combined. An early 4th quarter TD by USC QB Cody Kessler put the Trojans up nine and it looked like the might have been the game winner as the game went scoreless for almost another 10 minutes. ASU back DJ Foster, who along with the rest of the Sun Devils couldn’t muster much on the ground, went on top for six to close the game back to within two with a 21 yard TD catch with a little over three minutes left in the game.

Less than a minute later with the Sun Devils trying to get the Trojans into a three and out situation, Javorius Allen broke through the ASU line for a game ending 53 yd TD run. Allen was a thorn in ASU’s side all day with his 143 yards on the ground. But as the 70,000 Trojan faithful began to file out of the Coliseum, the Sun Devils continued to grind until the final gun. The first play following the kickoff was a scrambling Bercovici to Cameron Smith 73 yard pitch and catch to bring the Devils back within two, 34-32 with 2:43 left in the game. But no timeouts. After three straight running plays and a pooch punt by USC QB Kessler, left ASU on their own 28 with no timeouts and :23 seconds on the clock. An incomplete pass, then a 26 yard pass to Gary Chambers to the USC 46 left ASU with :07 after Bercovici grounded the ball. Even with regular place kicker Zane Gonzales still in AZ, a 63 yard field goal attempt was never an option, so a hail mary was the only thing left. Bercovici then tossed a floating ball up into the LA night to find a wide open Jaelen Strong who hauled in the 46 yard pass for a Sun Devil 38-34 victory.

Mike Bercovici’s thought’s on the final play. “First off, credit to Tyler Sulka, who stayed firm on the right side and Vi Teofilo, Nick Kelly, Christian Westerman and Jamil Douglas for setting firm. They brought three. We practice that play every Thursday and our coaches put the same amount of stress on a Thursday practice like it was on the field. It was a little bit of a prayer, I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I got it that far. It looked like a little bit of a duck. But I needed to give us a chance and who else but Jaelen Strong comes up with it.”

I have to be honest, instead of maintaining journalistic integrity and possibly getting some good pictures, I ran onto the field to celebrate with the whole ASU team. In my 30 years of being around ASU, this was probably the greatest finish I’d ever seen and I had a front row seat standing on the five yard line. The post game was full of congratulations and talk of what happens when you work hard, stay the course and finish the game. All cliches that aligned themselves into a huge Sun Devil victory.

Not only was this victory a great moral boost with normal starter Kelly still on the bench, but it also solidified the confidence this Sun Devil team has in its coach’s preachings as well as back up QB Mike Bercovici. The Sun Devils now have a much needed bye week to get healthy before they host the Cardinal of Stanford. A game that will bring back bad memories of last years two drubbings.

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