The ASU Football team fell short Thursday night with a 61-55 triple overtime loss to Oregon. ASU drops to 4-4 on the season and 2-3 in the Pac-12. As a few days have now passed, we offer some analysis on the heart-wrenching loss for the Devils.
As predicted, the ASU offense was able to move the ball. Quarterback Mike Bercovici led the Sun Devils to amass 742 yards of total offense. The rushing attack was outstanding with running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage both gaining more than 120 yards. And with only a couple of exceptions, when the ASU offense was in the red zone, they scored touchdowns.
But two turnovers doomed the Sun Devils. Both turnovers were interceptions thrown by Bercovici. The first came with about five minutes remaining in the game. On a first down, ASU used a hard count to draw the defense offsides. It appeared to work, as some Ducks defenders jumped. Bercovici thought he had a free play to gamble with and threw it deep, hoping for a big play. It was picked off by the Oregon secondary. The problem was that the officials didn’t throw a flag after all, and so the interception stood. The ensuing possession by the Ducks led to the improbable touchdown pass by Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams at the end of regulation.
Bercovici’s second interception came on the last play of the game. On second down, from the three yard line in triple overtime, Bercovici attempted to throw a slant pass to his outside receiver. His throw was off the mark and it was picked off to end the game. It was a devastating mistake. On that final possession, ASU was in prime position to win the game.
Coming into this game, the sentiment around the ASU program was that the special teams situation had finally been repaired. Last week’s special teams heroics allowed ASU to have a lead in the fourth quarter at Utah. But Thursday night, against Oregon, the special teams units hurt this football team. First, kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 26 yard field goal on ASU’s opening drive. He missed badly. (Gonzalez also missed from 52 and 54 yards, but those distances are not automatic) Secondly, the ASU kickoff team allowed a 100 yard return by Oregon that made it a four point game late in the third quarter. On that kick, Gonzalez, who was tops in the nation in touchbacks, didn’t get it out of the end zone and allowed Oregon to set up their return. (Gonzalez also kicked one out of bounds that gave Oregon the ball at the 35 yard line) The kickoff cover team got out numbered at the point of attack and the Oregon return man went untouched for the score. That’s 10 Oregon points that can be directly attributed to special teams.
Mistakes, Miscues and Mental Errors
Football is a game of mistakes. If everyone played perfectly, it would be impossible to play the game. Proper alignments, keys, reads, reactions, techniques and execution leave a lot of room for error. That’s football. The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins. Some mistakes are a function of the game and the talent involved. For example, an angle that a safety takes might work against New Mexico, but it ends up being a poor angle against USC. Or a good spin move by a defensive lineman against a freshman tackle at UCLA ends up costing you against a veteran tackle at Utah. Vexing as it may be to fans, the escapability of Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams in the pocket is not the fault of ASU.
However, many mistakes that football teams make are preventable. They are self-inflicted. ASU is guilty of several of these careless mistakes: Three false start penalties at home? Inexcusable. A busted coverage that lets a slot receiver run down the seam all alone? Ridiculous. Three personal fouls? Undisciplined. An End/Tackle twist done incorrectly to let Royce Freeman run 62 yards to the end zone? Confused. All of those are unacceptable. And those types of errors are not typical of Todd Graham-coached teams that ASU fans have become accustomed to. It’s not winning football.
Fans might also be wondering how there were no ASU defenders around on what was essentially a Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation. When Adams threw the ball off his back foot and the ball hung up in the air forever, there were two Oregon receivers in the back of the end zone with no ASU defenders covering them. That’s puzzling.
Many ASU fans and college football pundits will point to the officials’ missed call on the Oregon touchdown where the receiver’s big toe was out of bounds. It was. But it is irresponsible to blame the loss on that one play. The bottom line is that this ASU team is talented enough to win. Their game plans are sound enough to win. But the mental errors and carelessness with the ball is why this team is 4-4. End of story.
So, for the team and for fans, it’s time to move on. ASU can still win 9 games this season and get a decent bowl game. That should be the goal, along with re-gaining the Territorial Cup. While it was heartbreaking for the Sun Devils to lose this game, it was a great effort and an entertaining football game.