Instant Analysis: Arizona

Arizona State had a massive offensive outburst in first half of its Territorial Cup win over Arizona Saturday and then held on through somewhat of a bumpy ride until it put an exclamation mark on the victory with two interception returns for touchdowns late.

When it comes to the Territorial Cup the bottom line for Arizona State fans and alums is to just win the game. ASU accomplished that goal, winning 52-37. It seemingly had the game put away in the first half but allowed Arizona to get back into the game and make it a one score game twice in the second half. That had ASU coach Todd Graham and fans of the program no doubt feeling pretty uncomfortable for a period of time. 

The ASU offense started poorly in its first couple of possessions. It wasn’t until halfway through the first quarter that it was able to gain a first down which did not come via an Arizona penalty. Senior receiver Devin Lucien kick started the offense as the quarter wore on and the Sun Devils had a 14-0 lead. Lucien, who went on to earn Bob Moran MVP honors, finished the first quarter with four catches for 125 yards and a score. For the game he had nine receptions for 190 yards.

Arizona starting quarterback Jerrard Randall was pulled after only completing four of 13 passes for 35 yards. He had open receivers but was unable to make good throws or the right reads and Rich Rodriguez felt he had no choice other than to go to redshirt freshman Brandon Dawkins.

To start the second quarter, ASU was seemingly in control up 14-0 with Arizona only having 62 yards of total offense after the first quarter but senior Mike Bercovici telegraphed a pass on second down that was returned for a touchdown by sophomore Cam Denson to make it 14-7. 

Bercovici and the ASU offense responded well, with a ten play 78 yard drive that ended with Bercovici scoring from one yard out. 

The ASU ground game dominated the second quarter, rushing 13 times for 137 yards. By halftime, sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage had combined for 20 carries for 173 yards and a touchdown. 

When you look back at the first half, ASU lead 31-10 and arguably had played its best half of football in all three phases of the game. It had 400 yards of offense, it only had yielded 141 yards to Arizona and had knocked out the starting quarterback. The special teams had played well and ASU looked to have the game secured.

Just a week earlier, ASU came out of a lackluster first half against Washington to play well and win the game comfortably. The reverse essentially took place this week.

It wasn’t that Arizona dominated the third quarter, it was more that ASU came out flat offensively and started to have too many breakdowns on the backside of its defense. 

Arizona only had 163 yards of total offense in the third quarter and more than half of that came on one play when Wildcat receiver Trey Griffey took a curl route through a menagerie of bad angles and missed tackles for a 95-yard score at the end of the quarter. 

The Sun Devil defense dominated the line of scrimmage in the game and Arizona never really tried to establish any type of rushing attack. For the game, Arizona running backs combined nine carries for a meager 11 yards. If not for Dawkins ability to make plays with his feet, Arizona would have been completely one dimensional. He rushed 21 times for 78 yards and a score.

ASU got good pressure on the quarterback consistently in the game. It finished the game with eight sacks and numerous quarterback hurries and hits. It was the defensive backs who let down the defense and allowed Arizona to close within one score twice in the second half.

We saw senior Solomon Means make his first start a field safety, a position he had no prior experience playing before today. He was up and down but for a first time playing it was fine. Senior field corner Kweishi Brown was beaten deep multiple times, though he maybe lost one ball in the sun that went for a long game but it was not a good game for him. Sophomore James Johnson struggled at times with angles and tackling in the game and his initial bad angle allowed Griffey to break into the open. It was not a great performance by Johnson, who with Jordan Simone done for the year, is essentially getting an audition for the bandit safety position next year. Johnson looked more like a Spur playing Bandit in this game.

In the end, it was freshman defensive back Kareem Orr -- who played field safety on nickel downs -- and senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington who came up with two pick-six scores within almost a minute of each other late in the fourth quarter that blew the game open and sealed the victory for ASU. Those plays were really created by the pressure from the ASU defensive front.

The ASU offensive line played well, only yielding two sacks and dominated the Arizona front. ASU rushed for 250 yards with a 5.2 yards per carry in the game. Arizona’s defensive line is not very good and is undersized. ASU played to its advantage in the game, it used its size and strength advantage over Arizona well in the game. 

We saw the Sun Devils break out some new formations against Arizona, such as the play when left tackle Evan Goodman lined up in the slot. We saw them use two tight ends with Bercovici under center more in this game than any other this year. They also used freshman offensive lineman Sam Jones at tight end and in unbalanced formations.

Overall offensive coordinator Mike Norvell called one of his better games of the year. Unofficially we had ASU with 80 plays and 43 were run plays to 37 pass plays. ASU had 24 first downs and we had them with 12 explosive plays and ten negative plays. 

ASU had the big chuck plays the offensive had struggled with for most of the year. The offense reeled off plays of 58, 59, 37, 41 and 65 yards. All of those came in the first half. Officially ASU’s offense had only one three and out but that doesn’t count Bercovici’s interception. For the game, the Sun Devils finished with 565 yards.

The Sun Devils badly needed points after Arizona closed to a 31-23 lead. The offense was able to put together what at the time was one its biggest drives of the season. It was an 11 play 74 yard drive in which they did not have Richard who left with an ankle injury. ASU scored on a one yard run by D.J. Foster  but the key play of that drive was a microcosm of the problems the offense has had this year.

ASU had fourth and one at Arizona’s 48 yard line. ASU lined up to go for it but had to burn its final timeout before the play clock expired. Burning a timeout in that sequence could have been disastrous if the Sun Devils did not convert but Bercovici kept the ball on the read-option and easily made the first down on a 10-yard run.  The offense has not seemed to be totally prepared for fourth down situations at times this year and either had to use timeout and or run odd plays. If the Sun Devils had come up short it could have potentially become one of those signature Territorial Cup moments if Arizona had come back to win the game. 

The bottom line, Todd Graham won the Territorial Cup, is 3-1 against Arizona, and becomes the first Sun Devil coach to go to bowl games in his first four years. However, he has to get the team back up on a holiday week to play a good Cal team in Berkeley next Saturday. If ASU can beat the Golden Bears, it would make it a 7-5 season. The Sun Devils come of as a team that finished well and would give the coaching staff some ammo to use in recruiting as the team heads into next year. 

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