Saturday in Pasadena, the Arizona State football team temporarily salvaged their season with a huge 38-23 upset victory at the Rose Bowl. Just as last week’s debacle against USC was a “team loss”, this week’s win against UCLA was a “team win”. All phases of the game contributed to the ASU victory; from the rushing attack of the offense to the third down execution by the defense to the punter Matt Haack pinning the Bruins deep in their own territory, to the nearly automatic touchbacks by kicker Zane Gonzalez.
The Sun Devil football team desperately needed this victory. Going into this game with a 2-2 record and their confidence shaken after the lopsided loss to USC, another loss to No. 7 UCLA would have derailed any chance to win the PAC-12 South and caused some serious doubt to creep into the minds of the players. In this win, gone were the fumbles, the blown assignments, the silly penalties and the missed tackles. Though ASU was far from perfect, they outplayed UCLA.
A note about the Bruins: It would be irresponsible not to consider the injuries on the UCLA defense. Defensive lineman Eddie VanderDoes, linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Fabian Moreau did not play Saturday. Those are tough players to replace. Moreau is quietly one of the best cover corners in the country. Jack is an NFL prospect and VanderDoes is a veteran playmaker. Nevertheless, this same UCLA defense went to Tucson last week and pushed around the UofA.
The ASU offense still has some issues. There is still no real vertical threat in the passing attack. No receiver has stepped up and posed an explosive threat to score in the blink of an eye. The strong-armed ASU quarterback, Mike Bercovici is clearly frustrated when looking for deep targets. The offense is literally “dinking and dunking” in the passing game, with an occasional downfield throw to the tight end, Kody Kohl. At some point, that is going to have to change. As the season progresses, teams will start “loading the box” on defense. They will creep up and put a safety close to the line of scrimmage to neutralize the running game, press the outside receivers and force ASU to throw the ball deep.
Speaking of Bercovici, the senior quarterback had one of the best efforts of his career. Bercovici clawed and scratched to find a way to win this game, including running the ball on designed zone-reads and scrambling out of trouble. Additionally, he made some difficult throws to keep the chains moving. His pass to DJ Foster on a slant route for a touchdown in the third quarter was an absolute dart. It was perfectly placed. Becovici’s leadership on Saturday was what this Sun Devil team sorely needed.
Moving forward, this ASU football team obviously needs to ride the momentum of this win. But they can’t stop to feel good about themselves. That would be a huge mistake. The coaches and team captains need to keep this team hungry. True, this win will quiet some of the critics and take some pressure off of the players and coaches. But this team would be wise to just quietly go about their business of trying to improve every day. The glory of this upset victory will sour quickly if ASU lets their guard down next week against an improving Colorado team.