Second Half Shut-Out Keeps Devils Undefeated

What will the pundits say now? Prior to the Cal game, the majority of college football experts claimed that the undefeated Sun Devils haven't played anyone, and thus their record is inflated. Looks like it's back to drawing board for those folks, as ASU prevailed over 18th ranked Pac-10 foe Cal 31-20. The Devils tamed the Bears outscoring them 31-7 in the last three quarters, after trailing 13-0.

A sold out crowd of 71,706 in Sun Devils Stadium saw the predictable script for Arizona State (8-0, 5-0 Pac-10) play out. An early turnover, tonight it was a Rudy Carpenter fumble returned for a touchdown, and generally lackluster play on both sides of the ball, caused the maroon and gold to find themselves in a hole. Cal (5-3, 2-3) took advantage and jumped to a 13-0 first quarter lead.

ASU halted the slide fairly early. Running back Dimitri Nance got the hosts back into the game in the second stanza, scoring two of his three rushing touchdowns. However, a controversial touchdown catch by DeSean Jackson scored in the same frame, gave the Golden Bears a 20-14 edge at the half.

True, the maroon and gold faithful have been watching second half comebacks all season long. Yet even some of them were probably wondering if the Sun Devils could answer back with vigor against their toughest opponent to date. Luckily, the results were the same.

In their first possession of the second half, Carpenter completed 3 of 4 passes for 70 yards. Nance converted a 4th and 1 situation for his last score of the night that gave ASU the lead for good, 21-20. The ASU defense kept Cal at bay with a pair of fourth quarter interceptions, and a 12-yard TD catch by Kyle Williams put the finishing touches on ASU's biggest home victory in 11 years. It surely felt like 1996 all over again with the student rushing the field and climbing on the goal posts.

Carpenter was 17-29 on the night for 219 yards. The offensive line did a good job not only protecting him (gave up two sacks), but also helping Nance (85 yards on 21 carries) and Keegan Herring (24-97) rush for 181 net yards. Chris McGaha paced the Sun Devils with four catches, all for first downs, covering 58 yards. Thomas Weber remained perfect on the year in field goals, after converting a 47-yard attempt. Furthermore, he punted five times for an average of 42 yards, with only one of them returned for -1 yards.

The most eye-popping stat of the game 37:30-22:30 edge in time of possession. ASU was 9-19 in its third down conversions, 2-2 on fourth down attempts, while limiting Cal to 3-11 third down conversions.

The mantra of ASU's playing its toughest opponent to date next week will be uttered once again as the Devils travel to Oregon. The Ducks, with only one loss on the year and following a win over USC, would love nothing better than to tie ASU atop the Pac-10 conference with a victory.

It is another stringiest test that awaits Dennis Erickson's squad this season. Maybe the pundits will change their tune about the Sun Devils' chances or predict once again an ASU defeat. In the meantime, the Devils keep marching to their own beat, taking care of opponents with a focus and determination that has to be admired. While they're adding plethora of gray hairs on the heads of their fans, they're also creating an excitement in Tempe that hasn't been seen for over ten years.

And wouldn't we all love to party like it's 1996?

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