When asked at his weekly Monday press conference if Arizona State’s game against the Oregon Ducks on Thursday night would have the potential to be an offensive shootout, ASU head coach Todd Graham held nothing back in his candid response.
“I surely hope not,” Graham said firmly. “We don't want that.”
But on Thursday night playing against an explosive Oregon offense and coping with its struggling defense, an offensive shootout is exactly what ASU got and eventually a triple overtime shootout is exactly what ASU lost.
Going into overtime for the first time since its 19-16 single overtime win against Utah in 2014 at Sun Devil Stadium, an exhausted Sun Devils’ team was unable to pull out a victory against the Ducks. Losing 61-55, ASU dropped to a 4-4, 2-3 record while the Ducks improved to 5-3, 3-2 on the season. Bowl eligibillity isn't a certainty since ASU will have to win two of their next four games, with two being on the road and its next game being against the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Wash.
But while the Sun Devils were seemingly able to re-establish their potent offensive rhythm throughout the night, when it came time for ASU’s third overtime series to roll around, the Sun Devils were unable to get it done.
Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to win the game after Oregon made the score 61-55 after a controversial touchdown that was caught by junior wide receiver Bralon Addison, ASU senior quarterback Mike Bercovici instead threw an interception in the back of the end zone to sophomore cornerback Arrion Springs.
"They deserved to win," Graham said. "Our guys fought hard, played hard. I want to congratulate Oregon. Man, that was a heck of a football game. But at the end of the day, we made too many mistakes to win."
And as the stream of Oregon players rushed the field to celebrate with their teammates and subsequently ran into the visitors' tunnel, the stands at Sun Devil Stadium emptied seemingly quicker than as the interception had occurred.
But while the offense couldn’t get it done in the end, ASU’s offense played like it should have won the ball game. Gaining a season-high 742 yards of offense, a season-high 344 rushing yards, and 36 first downs on the night, the Sun Devils were seemingly able to re-establish their potent offensive rhythm throughout the night despite the team’s numerous self-inflicted wounds.
Coming back after sitting out against Utah due to injury, ASU sophomore running back Demario Richard gained 135 yards on 19 carried and scored one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown on the night. Sophomore running back Kalen Ballage also had himself a game, rushing for 127 yards on 12 carries, an average of 10.6 yards per carry.
But even on a rare night in which two Sun Devils rushed for over 100 yards, neither got a carry in triple overtime with ASU sitting on first and goal at the three. On that first and goal call, Bercovici attempted to throw to junior wide receiver Tim White, but the ball was bobbled and looked like it could have been nearly intercepted. Then on second and goal from the three, ASU tried calling a similar play call to White, but instead Bercovici's pass was intercepted.
"Obviously we talk about overtime, the team that runs the ball in overtime wins," Graham said.
Bercovici too had a huge performace, 32 of 53 passing for 398 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. Nine different Sun Devil receivers had at least one catch of nine yards or more and White lead all ASU receivers with nine catches for 92 yards.
Behind its two running backs and its plethora of perimeter targets, ASU outpaced the Ducks all night and ended up calling 39 more plays on offense than Oregon, yet the score was close until the very end when Oregon's arsenal of weapons took over. By the end of the third overtime, Oregon had only converted 19 first downs and three third down conversions out of 14, but the number of explosive plays of 10-15 yards or more is what kept the Ducks heavily in the game.
The Sun Devils came into Thursday night's matchup ranked worst in the conference for passing yards allowed per catch with 7.9 and by the end of the night, Oregon was averaging 13.7 yards per catch. For how close the game turned out to be, it heavily appeared that during some portions of the game that it would be Oregon’s excess of explosive plays that would win it the game and ultimately, it was.
"A lot of things were really self-inflicted defensively," Graham said. "But there wasn't anything they did that we didn't work on. But they did it with really fast guys. Probably maybe the thing that wasn't very smart is I think we probably listened too much. So we decided we weren't going to blitz so much tonight. Tell you how that worked out."
In ASU's ensuing possession after Bercovici threw a five-yard touchdown strike to junior tight end Kody Kohl with 7:49 left in the fourth quarter to put ASU up 41-34, Bercovici threw his first interception of the night into the waiting arms of Oregon sophomore cornerback Tyree Robinson.
Proceeding to start at its own 40-yard line, Oregon was able to dirve 60 yards downfield until it was forced to try and convert a fourth and nine play with 23 seconds left in teh fourth quarter. Scrambling out of the pocket, Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams threw a laser touchdown pass to the back of the end zone to a crossing junior wide receiver Dwayne Stanford to tie the game up, 41-41 and ultimately sending the teams into their overtime battle.
But that wasn't ASU's only mistake of the night. ASU junior kicker Zane Gonzalez missed three-straight field goals on the night and ASU's special teams ended up with a -16 ratio on the night after a 100-yard kickoff return by Oregon also hampered the the Sun Devils' chances of pulling out a victory. The Sun Devils also had nine penalties on the night, more than twice thier average, including a personal foul by sophomore defenive tackle Tashon Smallwood which extended an Oregon drive in which it kicked a field goal.
"We had I think 10 penalties," Graham said. "I think nine were recorded but we had 10, they declined one, and penalties that cost us. Undisciplined things. Punching somebody after the whistle. We've never gotten one penalty like that since I've been here. 10 penalties defensively. Very poorly preapred."
But, there was a time in the game where it looked like ASU could redeem itself.
After Gonzalez -- who had previously missed three-straight field goals in the game -- finally converted his first field goal of the night with 11:39 left to go in the third quarter to tie the game 17-17, ASU freshman safety Kareem Orr snagged an interception out of the air in a diving play and in ASU's ensuing series, ASU broke the 17-17 tie.
With 9:27 left to go in the third quarter, sophomore running back Demario Richard broke free off the line and scored a 22-yard rushing touchdown to bring the score to 24-17, ASU up.
The interception by Orr was the 100th turnover forced by ASU under Graham since 2012.