Every game is the biggest because it is the one in front of you. All the games are of equal importance. Remember all the coaching bromides? The problem is when Arizona State and UCLA faced off for sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South only one of the two teams was prepared for that “biggest game,” as ASU rolls UCLA 42-23 at the Rose Bowl Saturday night.
UCLA had the chance to go 2-0 in conference play for the first time in eight years. Instead the Bruins are now left to play from behind in the conference race needing help from other teams along the way.
Thompson-Robinson had the numbers between the running quarterbacks for much of the night. He finished 21-32 throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown. Thompson-Robinson also ran more than in any other game this season, picking up 93 yards on 18 carries. He was UCLA’s leading rusher. That is never a good sign.
Arizona State’s Daniels completed 72% of his passes, going 13 for 18 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. The prolific scrambler only had 45 yards on six carries.
The difference between the two came down to decision making. Daniels did a better than Thompson-Robinson. That was highlighted by a fourth down and one in the fourth quarter. He faked the handoff to Zach Charbonnet and rolled to his left. It was so easily discernible that there were three ASU defenders waiting for him. Thompson-Robinson said after the game, “I should have handed the ball off.” Daniels delivered 18 points for the Sun Devils in the second half. UCLA mustered zero points over the last two quarters.
An Even First Half
UCLA opened the scoring with a 48-yard field goal by Nicholas Barr-Mira. Arizona State countered with a 25-yard Christian Zendejas field goal to make it 3-3. That was all either team could come up with. The Bruins had 119 yards of offense in the first quarter but left opportunities on the field. Tight end Greg Dulcich got off the side of the milk carton and had two catches for 46 yards. He would finish the night with nine catches for 136 yards. But the lone field goal was all UCLA managed early on.
On the first play of the second quarter, Thompson ripped a line drive pass into the middle of the end zone, right into the number two on the jersey of Kyle Philips, and UCLA took a 10-3 lead. Both teams spent the second quarter counter punching. The difference was that ASU was doing it through the air with big plays.
Daniels hit Geordon Porter for 46 yards over the middle to the UCLA 28 yard line. Chip Trayanum would finish the drive with a six run to the left going untouched into the end zone. The game was tied at 10-10.
On the ensuing possession, Thompson took off on what looked like a designed keeper right up the middle for 35 yards to the ASU 14. Four plays later Brittain Brown shoved his way up the middle for a one-yard touchdown run. The Bruins had the lead back at 17-10.
ASU Strikes Hard And Fast
What UCLA did not have was an answer for the ASU passing game and the big plays it was producing. Daniels connected with Ricky Pearsall on a screen pass in the flat. Pearsall broke a poor arm tackle by Quentin Lake and cruised in for a 65-yard touchdown pass that tied the game. Once again, because of the big plays, the Sun Devils needed only four plays and just over a minute-and-a-half to cover 83 yards.
Barr-Mira added a 21-yard field goal to regain the lead for UCLA at 20-17. But again, the defense, and the defensive secondary in particular, could not keep contact with ASU receivers. Daniels connected with Pearsall again. This time the receiver was two yards behind Elijah Guidry on his way to a 54-yard touchdown catch that put the Sun Devils up 24-20.
UCLA recovered a fumbled ASU punt at the Sun Devils 10-yard line. But with only four seconds left, the only real option was to put more points on the board and so they settled for a 26-yard Barr-Mira field goal and a 24-23 halftime deficit. That was the last we would see of any UCLA points production.
Sun Devils Own The Second Half
In the third quarter, ASU running back Rachaad White took a handoff at the UCLA 49, spun at the line of scrimmage, broke through arm tackles and ran right past the UCLA secondary for the touchdown. The two-point conversion made it 32-23 ASU.
UCLA would outgain ASU 128-71 in total yards in the third quarter but had exactly nothing to show for it, as they were outscored 8-0.
ASU delivered the final stab from the pitchfork in the fourth quarter when Daniels artfully mixed his own running game, with some intermediate passes to drive the team 96 yards on 11 plays and burned 6:52 off the clock to do it. White took it in from a yard out for the 39-23 lead. UCLA’s response was a drive that had Thompson-Robinson being sacked on three consecutive plays while looking for the big hook-up down field. ASU added a late field goal for the final score.
Having To Regroup…Again
UCLA was also tagged with eight penalties for 89 yards with more than a few undisciplined 15 yarders. Bruins linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath picked up one of the major infractions. He said the penalties, “Gives them momentum and gives them 15 yards. There are times where they’re out of field goal range and now they’re in field goal range, and it gives them that momentum.”
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said the loss was the loss regardless of whether it was in conference play or not. “We go on one week deals. We’ll make the corrections from this game on Monday and get ready to play Arizona.”
Be that as it may, Thompson-Robinson admitted that the big margin loss stings. “I think every game is an opportunity lost, if we lose it. They’re all important and they’re all going to be important moving forward. Again, that’s why we take it day-by-day and week-by-week and focus on Arizona now.”
The opportunity was lost. With the Bruins having played four of their first five games at home, they are going to be living on the road much of the rest of the season. And while none will admit it, they are going to have to be keeping tabs on the other teams more than they would like. In the bizarro world that is Pac-12 football, Oregon State and Arizona State are the two division leaders. UCLA at 3-2 overall and 1-1 has to hope some of the randomness on the season looks favorably towards the Bruins at some point.