It was anything but easy, but Arizona State flexed its muscle late in the second half to muster out a win in an unexpectedly close game against Cal Poly and its triple option attack on offense.
Rebounding after its 38-17 loss to Texas A&M in Week 1, the Sun Devils (1-1) won 35-21 at Sun Devil Stadium in their home opener.
ASU went up early 14-0 against a clear underdog team in Cal Poly (1-1), but with a few critical errors, some undisciplined penalties and unforeseen errors on the defense, the Mustangs came storming back into a game they never should have been apart of. ASU's main trouble arose from their inability to shut down Cal Poly’s triple-option attack with players consistently unable to locate the ball and stay on their assignments.
The Mustangs, who won last week in a last-second field goal against Montana, had no clear threats on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, yet they hung in with a talented ASU team until mid-way of the fourth quarter.
ASU then solidified their win with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bercovici to junior wide receiver Tim White with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter, making the score 35-21.
The first touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was not only huge for ASU's offense, but also for Kohl, who had a critical fumble on a 3rd and 2 on ASU's 32 yard line with 2:31 left in the second quarter. The mistake by Kohl allowed Cal Poly to drive down the field and score their second touchdown of the night, making the score 21-14 with ASU up going into halftime.
Building off that 1-yard touchdown by senior quarterback Chris Brown with nine seconds left to go in the first half, the the Mustangs came out swinging in the third quarter.
With a little help by ASU’s undisciplined defense, Cal Poly was able to put together another touchdown-scoring drive. On the first play of the Mustangs first series in the third quarter, sophomore linebacker Christian Sam was called for a face mask penalty, allowing the Mustangs to start their drive on their own 48-yard line.
After six straight run plays by Cal Poly in their typical triple-option offense, the Mustangs completed their first completion of the night – a 21-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Chris Brown to sophomore tight end Reagan Enger.
With the Mustangs touchdown, it tied up the score, 21-21 with 11:47 left to play in the third quarter.
In addition to a struggling ASU defense, the Sun Devil offense provided no clear assistance. ASU was inside in Cal Poly’s 10-yard line twice in its next three drives in the second half after Cal Poly tied up the game 21-21 and the Sun Devils ended up with zero points on both of those drives.
On the Sun Devils first chance to respond, their offense failed to deliver in their seventh series of the night. After ASU got the ball down to Cal Poly’s 9-yard line, things took a turn for the worse. The Sun Devils were unable to get in the end zone after two runs by Richard were short and Kohl had a drop in the back of the end zone. When fourth down came around, ASU took a shot again -- this time to junior wide receiver Devin Lucien -- but Bercovici's pass was intercepted, ending the drive.
On ASU’s next scoring opportunity, the Sun Devils failed to score again after sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 28-yard field goal wide right with under 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
ASU's offense struggles were clear, but there were bright spots. Lucien was the leading wide receiver of the night, catching seven passes for 79 yards after only catching the ball once against the Aggies last week. ASU’s run game showed its worth with in the first half alone, Richard had 16 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Against Texas A&M last week, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound back had 17 carries for 73 yards on the night with no touchdowns.
Richard finished the game against the Mustangs with 25 carries for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Senior running back D.J. Foster was given the ball in the backfield 12 times and ran for 76 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Foster had a bit of an accelerated work load, with junior running back De’Chavon Hayes appearing to be injured with less than four minutes to go in the second quarter. Hayes did not return to the game after he was seen with his leg wrapped on the trainers table.
Freshman running back Jason Lewis did not see the field, meaning his redshirt is still on the table.
ASU struck first on the night with Bercovici throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver D.J. Foster to make the score 7-0 with 8:14 left in the first quarter.
Starting at their own 23-yard line in their second series of the game, the Sun Devils controlled the tempo, handing off the ball consistently to Richard four-straight times. After establishing the run, ASU took to the air with Bercovici launching one to Chambers for a 30-yard catch mid-drive to push the Devils to Cal Poly’s 18-yard line. The combination of run and pass opened up the Cal Poly defense, leaving them exposed for Foster’s 14-yard touchdown.
In the first quarter alone, ASU gained 144 yards compared to Cal Poly’s 50 yards. ASU’s defense was dominant, forcing Cal Poly into two straight opening three and out series.
Junior Devil backer Antonio Longino led the team with eight tackles first half, including one for loss. Sophomore linebacker Christian Sam had himself a night, recording seven tackles in the first half and two for loss. His two sacks even came on two plays when he didn’t even blitz.
ASU would score two more times in the first half, one touchdown with 13:11 left and the other with 7:06 left in the second quarter after the Mustangs found the end zone with 10:32 left in the first half. On ASU’s second touchdown score, Richard ran free off a well-executed cutback on the outside and scored from 13 yards out.