Traditional college homecomings involve parades, big picnics and multiple festive activities. But todays homecoming game against UCLA is a little different. Four former ASU coaches as well as Chandler product QB Brett Hundley come to Tempe as part of the UCLA contingent. But more important than that group, is how will the Sun Devils respond to the thumping they took against Oregon last Thursday night. It was against these very same Bruins that the 2011 season took a serious nose dive. And the way the game ended, 2012 has similar eery likenesses.
Despite the 14 point lead to start the game, ASU couldn’t hold that lead just as they couldn’t hold the early lead against Oregon the week before. The homecoming crowd had something to cheer about early again as the Sun Devils used a UCLA turnover for a quick touchdown, just like the week before. But the 14 point lead disappated to a 21-17 deficit at the half. Taylor Kelly, 25-35-1 315 yards committed a huge turnover while in his own end zone right before the half that basically sunk the Devils. In what was an unusual chain of events, ASU received the kick-off both at the start of the game as the half, which made that interception even more costly. The second half amounted to a good old fashioned PAC-12 shootout as neither team could do much from stopping the other.
Jon Mora, of ASU who assumed field goal responsibilities from Alex Garoutte made all three of his attempts from 36, 31 and 22 yards. But the choice to go for the two point conversion trailing 28-26 and failing, put the Sun Devils behind eight ball later in the game. And with the ball control ability of Jonathan Franklin on the ground, 26 carries for 174 yards eating time, ASU had little margin of error with each drive. ASU’s drive to put the Devils up by one with 1:33 left in the game should have sealed the victory, but without star DT Will Sutton in the game, the defense let the Bruins move downfield to score the winning field goal with no time left on the clock. Offensive yards have now hemmoraged out of ASU’s opponents the last two weeks which has caused some to question this teams ability to finish the season any differently than last year.
Under Coach Grahams guidance this year, the Devils have kept their penalties to a minimum, until today. Two first half penalties on third down that led to UCLA first downs and a holding penalty on a touchdown pass were inexcusable and were obviously costly. The last two weeks have also been inopportune times for Taylor Kelly to show his inexperience. He’s holding onto the ball entirely to long in many cases and its putting the offense in a hole. When he makes good choices the offense moves nicely, but when the team gets into long conversion downs they struggle. Which leads me to my next observation. After watching the quick big strike ability of Oregon and UCLA the last two weeks, its become clear to this reporter ASU does not have that ‘big play’ go to guy. They’ve only had two plays all year go more than 50 yards. Two!! Marion Grice who has simply amazed everyone watching him this year had another stellar game with 49 yards rushing and 69 receiving and a combined three TDs.
So with another tough road game in Corvallis against the Oregon State Beavers next week, this Sun Devil team must find a defensive balance. In what many in the press box predicted early in the year, the defensive secondary is becoming a major issue. The four TDs Brett Hundley threw today, there wasn’t an ASU defender within 7 feet of any of them. A lot can come down to the lack of Sutton in the middle, but Graham and his team aren’t using that as an excuse. When ASU puts pressure of the opposing QB, good things happen, irregardless (that was for you Coach Erickson) of the liabilities in the backfield. It also appears that Taylor Kelly is ‘the guy’ the rest of the year behind center, so Sun Devil fans will have to live and die with inexperience. Post game comments by Graham about this team not being anywhere near last years team that went into a complete second half collapse were strong and emphatic. Now its time to back up those comments.