Resilient Devils Prevail 48-42 Over the Bruins

The prevailing notion following the bitter loss to USC was that a win over UCLA (4-3, Pac-10 2-2), as ugly as it may be, could prove that ASU (6-1, 3-1) has successfully bounced back from their lone defeat of the season. Sure enough, this afternoon's victory was anything but a thing of beauty. Nonetheless, despite the deficiencies shown on both sides of the ball, Dirk Koetter's squad has once again dealt successfully with adversity staring them in the face.

This was a contest when momentum shifted back and forth with a fury. The maroon and gold started the game is convincing fashion. A 29-yard run by first time starter Preston Jones set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Walter to Rudy Burgess. Furthermore, the ASU defenders forced the visitors to punt after a quick three and out. On the Devils' ensuing position, Walter threw the first of three interceptions. However, a sack by Josh Golden of UCLA's Drew Olson forced the Bruins to settle for three. The Sun Devils came back with one of the prettiest plays of the year. On 3rd and 9 from their own 21, Walter spins away from incoming defenders, and not only avoids the sack but completes a pass under duress to Derek Hagan which ended in a 79-yard touchdown and put ASU ahead 14-3. Sandwiched by two Emmanuel Franklin interceptions, the Bruins managed to score on a 2-yard run by Maurice Drew. Justin Burks' interception puts the offense on the opponent's 11-yard line, and Walter finds Hagan again, this time for a 12-yard strike to give ASU its biggest lead of the day 21-10. UCLA stormed back and scored ten unanswered points in the last minutes of the half, including a last second 48-yard field goal.

The Devils went 80 yards in their first possession of the second half, which culminated in a 15-yard touchdown catch by Zach Miller. A forced fumble by ASU's Maurice London took an unfriendly bounce into UCLA's Tab Perry's hands, and with a converted two-point play the game was tied at 28-28. The Sun Devils successfully converted a 4th and 1, but were only able to muster three points out of that possession. The Bruins, aided by Chris Markey's 61-yard dash set up a Manuel White 3-yard scamper to give the visitors their first lead of the game 35-31. A fake punt by ASU isn't capitalized, and UCLA scored midway through the fourth quarter on a 9-yard catch by Perry to pad their lead to 42-31. A significant part of the crowd left the stadium at that time, and ended up regretting it. Two lighting quick drives of 36 and 22 seconds respectively, result in touchdowns by Hagan and Terry Richardson, and along with a successful two-point conversion pass to Brent Miller gave back the lead to the Devils 45-42. Following a Dale Robinson Interception, kicker Jesse Ainsworth scores the last points of the game and lets the Sun Devil nation breath a collective sigh of relief.

Walter's performance was a mixed bag of goods. The senior was 25-51 for 416 yards and a career high six touchdown passes, which leaves him one shy away from John Elway for the all-time Pac-10 record. On the other hand he threw for three interceptions, and by his own admission didn't have one of his best overall games in the maroon and gold. Richardson led the team with a career high 159 yards (on seven catches), including one touchdown. Hagan had a career-high tying three touchdowns on five catches, amassing 160 yards. Jones paced the Devils with 76 yards on 16 carries, while Burgess had 112 all-purpose yards. Jamar Williams had team-high ten tackles. London and Josh Golden had eight tackles each. Jimmy Verdon had his best game of the year with eight tackles; two for loss, and two pass breakups.

"It was emotionally draining," said the ASU head coach on the game. "There were so many turning points emotionally in that game. There were so many times the momentum kept swinging back and forth. There are a lot of tired guys that gave everything they had down there in the locker room. I'm just so proud of our team hanging in there when we were down 11 points with seven minutes to go. There weren't many believers left when it got to that point and I'm so proud of our guys who believed."

"We just didn't have a lot go right today," Koetter continued. "We had many chances to get out front and we didn't do it. Just to finish the way we did and never stop competing, that's the mark of a good football team. We got off to such a great start and to play like we did in the second half and fall behind you just have to give the players all the credit. What a great character win for our football team. I'm real proud of our guys."

Koetter acknowledged that Walter's play was far from prefect, but he also chose to focus on his signal caller's play down the stretch. "Andrew said it very well, we left a lot of plays on the field today," Koetter stated. "I think the greatest thing about Andrew is that when we're down two scores with seven minutes, he brought us back. The first touchdown to Hagan – there's not a whole lot of quarterbacks in the country that make that throw. That ball was roped. But Andrew wasn't his best today. He also had some balls dropped. When you're the quarterback you get way too much credit when things go well, and way too much blame when they don't. Andrew is about as level headed a guy there is. That's why he'll be great beyond college football. I've never seen Andrew as mad at himself as he was on a couple of those plays today. How easy would it be for him to throw in the towel, and he didn't do that today."

When asked about the range of emotions he and his quarterback went through on Saturday, Koetter quipped "Me and Andrew went through a lot of emotions today. Yelling, happy, crying, heart attacks…Andrew is a pretty mature guy. I try to give Andrew his space. Andrew and I have a relationship where I try not to get into his face too often. He knows our offense. It was never in doubt that he was in there swinging away."

Down by two scores with seven minutes left, Koetter like many in attendance was going through some tense moments. "I was nervous," he admitted. "Things weren't going our way. They just scored a touchdown to go up by 11. Again, we were missing so many opportunities today. There were several huge plays in the game, but of the best was when (quarterbacks coach) Mark Helfrich dug one out from the archives that we haven't even practiced this week – a little stutter and go to Hagan. That was a perfect call for that time and that quick strike really energized our team."

ASU's fake punt was another stage of the game that contributed to some anxious moments for the Sun Devil skipper. "How may people saw that coming?" asked Koetter. "How many people were scared on that one? I was scared. In practice that's always a touchdown. In a game, we needed four we got five." Koetter brought down the house as he described the process on the sidelines that leads to the trick play. "Oz (special teams coach Tom Osborne) is calling it in my head phone ‘Fake punt! Fake punt!' And I'm going ‘hold on Oz.' and he goes "Fake punt! Fake punt!' Finally I just relent. When they (go to punt) I'm too afraid to look. I always act like I'm talking to Andrew and turn my back (smile). That was great call by Oz."

ASU's razor thin depth at tailback took a major hit with the suspension of Hakim Hill. "We have some discipline things in our program," said Koetter on this topic, "and if they're violated guys have to be accountable for. That's not fun as a coach when you're down to one scholarship tailback, to hold him out of the game, when you know it may cost you the game. With that said, I'm proud of the rest of the guys for doing what they did. In case you didn't notice, that was a walk-on, a receiver, a quarterback, and a tight end lining up at tailback today and they all were studs." Koetter declined to further comment on Hill's suspension and added that he will worry "down the road" whether Hill will play in future games.

While the defense struggled for the better part of the game, Koetter acknowledged that the offense hardly did its part in aiding the other side of the ball. "Our D started off awesome in the first half," he recalled. "We left so many plays out there, we could have knocked them out in the first half. Also, UCLA is a real good offensive football team. Our D was outstanding until the last drive of the first half, and if we cashed in on offense we could have been up three touchdowns in the first half. In the second quarter and part of the second half, we didn't help them on offense."

When asked about the significance of this victory, Koetter replied: "What happen today was huge. We got six wins, we're bowl eligible, and we didn't get there last year. Every team wants to go to a bowl game at the end of the year, and we have control of our destiny moving forward. There's no easy games left. None of those teams are gonna lay down for us. That (UCLA win) puts us at 3-1 in the conference, other than being 4-0 that's the best place you can be."

Although it was a great win and a great show of character, it would be an understatement to proclaim that ASU has many defencencies to repair prior to meeting conference powerhouse Cal on the road next week. This possible Rose Bowl deciding game is likely to test the Sun Devils' ability to once again overcome destitution. More often than not, the maroon and gold have found ways to accomplish just that. Some may say that winning in Berkley is near impossible. Then again, coming back from 11 points down midway through the fourth quarter usually falls into that category as well…

Sparky's Sundries Lee Burghgraef and Chris McKenzie were the game's captains…those in attendance were considerably less than the announced crowd of 63,985. Disheartening, but not surprising, in a metropolitan characterized by bandwagon fans. On the same token the student section should have been fuller than it was…it was definitely a unique assortment of players at tailback. Along with walk-on Jones and converted wide receiver Burgess, Antone Saulsberry, a converted linebacker, and Chad Christensen, the third string quarterback also saw action at this position. Christensen's six yards of rushing was only his second rushing attempt of the season, with the first rush coming against UTEP in the season opener…The Devils have won their last three home meetings with UCLA, and today's win was Koetter's first victory over the Bruins in his four-year Sun Devil tenure…In this western shootout ASU edged UCLA 536-535 in total yards on offense.

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