For the fifth-straight season under head coach Todd Graham, Arizona State rebounded from a big early season loss with a victory, with bounce back games in each of the last two seasons coming against the UCLA Bruins.
Last year, ASU lost to then-No. 19 USC 42-14 before coming back and beating then-No. 11 UCLA 38-23 in Pasadena, Calif. This season, ASU was dominated 41-20 by the Trojans last week at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum only to travel back home to Tempe and beat the Bruins 23-20 Saturday night.
“This is the third time in the last four years we beat UCLA and that’s a big deal," Graham said. "We take a lot of pride in that. To win the South, we know how vital it is to win against the California schools first and foremost. I said before the game that this was going to be the weekend of back-up quarterbacks and I guess it was.”
In Graham’s first year at ASU in 2012, the Sun Devils lost 24-20 to Missouri on Sept. 15, 2012 before coming back to win their next three straight games. In 2013, ASU lost to Stanford 42-28 in week three before coming back the next week and dominating USC, 62-41.
In 2014, the Sun Devils were blown out by then-No. 11 UCLA 62-27 before winning their next five games, including wins against then-No. 16 USC, then-No. 23 Stanford, then-No. 18 Utah and then-No.8 Notre Dame.
The Sun Devils' win Saturday against the Bruins at Sun Devil Stadium was the first time the home team had won on its home turf in the past five seasons in this series, and the victory helped Graham improve to 25-6 since his arrival to Tempe.
With the win, ASU improves to 5-1, 2-1 in the Pac-12. UCLA drops to 3-3 overall, 1-2 in the conference. The Pac-12 South is now wide open, with ASU's game against UCLA on Saturday night showcasing the wild nature that has been a reoccurring theme of the conference.
The Sun Devils will go on the road next Saturday to play Colorado (4-2, 2-1). The Buffaloes, who led the Pac-12 South coming into Saturday night for the first time since 2007, lost 21-17 to the USC Trojans on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Going into the game, ASU knew it would be without starting sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins after he was knocked out of ASU's 41-20 loss to USC last week and was ruled out for the Sun Devils' game against the Bruins.
ASU has a history of playing with its backup quarterbacks against UCLA in recent years. In 2010, Brock Osweiler came off the bench to throw four touchdowns in ASU's 55-34 win over the Bruins. In 2014, former ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici recorded his first career start in place of former ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly in ASU's 62-27 loss to UCLA.
ASU backup redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White recorded his first career start on Saturday and was on pace to finish the game victorious, until he was injured with ASU leading 23-20 with just under seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know," Graham said about White's status. "I mean, I do know, but I'm not going to say anything. Right now just don't know for sure. We'll let you know as soon as we are ready to do that."
The Sun Devils were forced to burn the redshirt of ASU freshman quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole and in his first career pass, he threw an interception to UCLA sophomore safety Adarius Pickett in the end zone with under six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
UCLA drove down to the ASU 44-yard line in its ensuring possession, but UCLA starting sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen was sacked for a nine-yard loss in which he fumbled the ball and suffered an injury that forced UCLA all the way back to its 47-yard line.
The Bruins were unable get a first down and had to punt the ball back to ASU. The Sun Devils weren't able to wind down the clock and gave the ball back to UCLA with 48 seconds remaining. However, UCLA was sacked twice and backup quarterback Mike Fafaul threw an interception to end the game.
Rosen finished the game going 24-for-43 for 400 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Rosen started the game for the Bruins, but went into the locker room limping heavily on his right leg after taking a hit with 6:06 left in the second quarter. Rosen's backup, Fafaul, took control of UCLA's offense in place of Rosen with 7:48 remaining in the second quarter.
Rosen returned to the game with 8:29 left in the third quarter. Fafaul ended his short stint in the game finishing 3-of-11 passing for 44 yards and two interceptions. Rosen was visibly uncomfortable after he fumbled the ball with 9:20 left in the first quarter and ASU sophomore defensive lineman Joseph Wicker pushed him out of the way and grabbed the ball for a fumble recovery on the UCLA 23-yard line.
White started the game 5-of-8, but then went 3-of-13 to end the half for a total of 40 yards with one interception in the first half alone. Before getting injured, White was 19-for-36 for 179 yards and one touchdown and one interception. White led a second half charge in which ASU scored 17 points in the third quarter alone.
"Very proud of Brady (White)," Graham said. "Very good defensive football team tonight and I challenged our guys defensively, you know it doesn't matter what everyone says, I don't think anybody picked us. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter the yards you give up. What did we give up? 400 yards passing? I'll take it. We got back to sacking quarterbacks and TFLs and tackling people."
The first half ended with a 3-3 tie and neither ASU nor UCLA could get a lot going on offense, with ASU recording a total of 64 yards in the first half, 24 rushing and 40 yards through the air. The Bruins had 169 total yards of offense, only 16 rushing and 153 passing yards. ASU had eight completions in the first half and seven punts.
But coming out of halftime, the Sun Devils got things going early, capitalizing on UCLA's second turnover of the night, an interception thrown by Fafaul to ASU senior cornerback De'Chavon Hayes with 13:51 left in the third quarter. Hayes returned the ball 37 yards to UCLA's four-yard line.
While ASU's drive ultimately ended being a four-play, minus-1 yard drive, Gonzalez made a 23-yard field goal, his 88th all-time, with 12:10 left in third quarter to give ASU a 6-3 lead with 12:10 left in the third quarter.
The Sun Devils continued their offensive spurt, scoring a five-yard touchdown off a carry by ASU junior running back Demario Richard with 8:29 left in the third quarter to give ASU a 13-3 lead.
The Bruins then answered with a field goal and touchdown of their own to tie the game 13-13 with 3:08 left in the third quarter. UCLA's touchdown score was off a big-time play by sophomore wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who broke multiple ASU tackles for a 52-yard touchdown catch from Rosen.
The Sun Devils took the lead, 20-13, after a 14-yard touchdown pass from White to ASU freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry as time expired at the end of the third quarter.
ASU junior safety Marcus Ball continued the momentum swing for ASU picking off Rosen with 13:51 remaining in the fourth quarter and returned it 22 yards to the UCLA 32-yard line.
"Man, Marcus balled out," Graham said. "Marcus has had some health things and things that have kept him, held him back, he broke his collarbone as a freshman He's got all kinds of stuff. I'm just so proud of him."
On ASU's ensuing possession, it failed to reach the end zone, but a 46-yard field goal by ASU senior kicker Zane Gonzalez gave ASU a 23-13 lead. The field goal was Gonzalez's record-breaking 89th career field goal, making him the new NCAA field goal record-holder, passing former Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins.
“It wasn’t exactly the best kick, I was nervous about it," Gonzalez said. "I was looking at it the whole way. It was a perfect snap and a perfect hold. I thought I didn’t hit it the best I could have. I was watching it the whole way and (senior punter) Matt (Haack) was like hit me and I was like I guess it went in. It was awesome.”
The Bruins answered with an 18-yard touchdown catch by UCLA senior tight end Nate Iese with 11:10 left in the fourth quarter, cutting down ASU's lead to 23-20, but couldn't get back on the board despite ASU nearly giving the game away following the Sterling-Cole interception.
UCLA had a couple missed chances in the first half to put points on the board, with freshman kicker J.J. Molson missing a 46-yard field goal with 10:31 left in the first quarter and missing a 49-yard field goal with 13:49 remaining in the second quarter. He converted a 38-yard field goal, which tied the game 3-3 with 14:56 remaining in the second quarter.