ASU Football: Sun Devils fourth quarter comeback falls short in Eugene

ASU Football: Sun Devils\ fourth quarter comeback falls short in Eugene

ASU Football: Sun Devils fourth quarter comeback falls short in Eugene

EUGENE — Its an awkward sight, seeing 10 grown men who just tried to embarrass each other in a chess game pile into an elevator and stare at their shoe tops. But thats exactly what happened on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. 

Oregon beat Arizona State 31-29 in a game that both teams tried to give each other over and over before time ran out. Check mate? The Ducks assistant coaches on the fifth floor of the stadium put their headsets down on the countertop and filed out of their coaching box and went into the elevator. Then, the coaches for ASU did the same thing.

From that point on, the Sun Devils take over. Rob Likens uses Benjamin to slow down tempo, and once ASU takes the lead, they secure it. While they lead by no more than seven points and the game becomes tied, a late-game drive pushes the Sun Devils into Duck territory and gives Brandon Ruiz a game-winning field goal opportunity to shake his struggles of recent weeks.

Thats how the home football season ended for Oregon. The Ducks managed three second-half points. They improved to 7-4. It ended with the elevator doors closing and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and his co-workers headed to the ground floor, an exhilarating two seconds per floor, toward Civil War week.

The second half is when things change. With Merlin Robertson back on the field, he breaks through Oregon’s beat-up offensive line and gives Herbert loads of trouble. After standing back in the pocket for the first half, the Ducks’ quarterback is flushed out in the second, lowering his completion percentage and Oregon’s time of possession.

You know how it ends. It either goes up. Or down. Maybe it stops on a floor or two. But eventually, you get where youd hoped and planned to go. And thats how different a ride like that is versus the one college football takes you on.

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The Oregon Ducks proved that in winning the game on Saturday night. They played a respectable first half, then curled into a ball, scored exactly three points in the second half, turned the ball over four times in the game, and still won. 

As the Sun Devils prepare for Oregon, history won’t be on their side. ASU has lost their last four outings in Eugene dating back to 2004. The Sun Devils also haven’t won two straight road games since 2014, and they haven’t won four straight games since their forgettable 2016 season.

Lets face it, fumbling away the victory over Stanford was painful. Getting boat-raced 27-zip in the first half at Washington State hurt. Having Arizona pile-drive the season in Tucson was a killer. Lessons were learned there amid pain, and angst, and those elevator rides werent as pleasant as the one that was mostly silent.

Cristobals first season will have at least seven victories. Maybe eight or even nine, if theres a bowl victory. But Im wondering how many lessons have been learned and Im fixated on a week to week basis by whether Arroyo will be the play caller next season. 

With Oregon going three-and-out in their first two drives, the Sun Devils have the luxury of optimal field position. They use it to power through a struggling defense, using Benjamin to move upfield and be a goal-line bully to open up a two-score advantage before the second quarter.

Beat Oregon State and win the Red Box Bowl or Cheez-It Bowl and youre a nine-win team. Do that and hold onto your recruiting class and youre a nine-win team with talent coming. But I left Saturday night hoping mostly that lessons will be learned.

With the win, the Sun Devils are still in contention for a divisional title. But they’ll have to wait one week longer to finish it. Arizona won’t have a chance to win it, but they’d love to eliminate ASU’s chances in the Territorial Cup

While Oregon was in the fetal position, hoping to bleed out the win over ASU, Washington State was busy putting 69 points on Arizona in a win that overshadowed it all. Gardner Minshew threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns — in the first half. Then, came out in the second half and kept slaying. 

The Ducks get the ball back with four minutes remaining, and to the Devils’ misfortune, that’s the end of the game. Verdell and Herbert squeeze the first downs necessary, and the Ducks wind out the clock with a close victory over a hot opponent.

The Ducks won their game. But the Cougars won the night. Its the college football world we live in. And I wondered as Oregon escaped with its victory if the Ducks would leave knowing that whatever points you have on the board when the third quarter starts never feel like enough.

Video: First half highlights: Oregon football offense rumbles to 28-13 lead over ASU

“We felt we could execute and continue on the path and momentum we had in the first half,” Cristobal said. “We had some miscues.”

In this game, ASU hits a rocky start, as the Ducks strike first to put ASU down early. The offense, however, responds right away, as Benjamin’s prowess gets the Sun Devils at the goal line and punches in a quick score to nod things up at seven.

Oregon has nine true freshman on the roster. There are five other redshirt freshman. There are 15 sophomores. Headed into the season Oregons roster had 75 scholarship players — 10 fewer than the norm — due to a mismanaged roster from Willie Taggart and Mark Helfrich.

But there’s a catch – as the Sun Devils walk off the field, they find out Utah’s earlier defeat to Colorado was complemented by Arizona losing to Washington State. Thus, ASU celebrates again after clinching the division title.

Cristobal had to bring on 24 walk-ons in order to fill out his scout team. Then, injuries came. The left tackle got hurt. Both offensive guards went down. A key defensive player was lost.

This gives Gonzales’ unit a chance to respond, an opportunity they take by forcing a three-and-out, giving the offense another chance. The action stalls from that point, as Oregon gets a field goal to take a 3-point lead into halftime.

Not excuses. Explanations. Also, Arroyo just isnt using quarterback Justin Herbert in the way he should be. Not sure he ever will. Still, I had the Ducks winning 8-9 games this season. And thats right where they are. Albeit with painful lessons learned, and some tough evenings in their past. 

Riding the hot arm of Manny Wilkins, the physical running of Eno Benjamin and the program’s best defense in years, the Sun Devils stomp into Eugene and defeat the Ducks to move one step closer toward their goal of a Pac-12 South title.

Oregon played four teams ranked in the Top 25 this season. It lost to then-No. 7 Stanford. It beat then-No. 24 Cal. It beat then-No. 7 Washington. And it lost at then-No. 25 WSU.

They also have to face Justin Herbert, a pro-style quarterback that would be a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. With star running back CJ Verdell at his disposal, this might be the toughest defensive challenge of ASU’s season.

“Our whole goal was to walk into the locker room tonight at 11:30 p.m. and be 1-0,” Cristobal said. “Ironically, it was 11:30 p.m. when we walked in.”

I keep thinking about the sobering scene a month ago in Pullman, when the Ducks lost by two touchdowns to the Cougars. I was most impressed that night by a couple of Oregon defensive players who stopped as they were leaving the field to watch WSU fans pour onto the field to celebrate.

As ASU has done in the past, they don’t give up. Wilkins is forced to go pass-only, allowing opportunities for Harry to break for big receptions and cut the deficit to three points entering the fourth quarter.

He just stood at the edge of the field looking back at it all, soaking up the perspective. Because as Breeze told a teammate, “I want to remember this.”

It’s the scenario nobody wants to see Saturday evening. Three weeks ago, the Sun Devils’ Pac-12 title hopes looked to be shot. Now, they are, and there isn’t much left to play for.

Share Share ASU Football: Sun Devils fourth quarter comeback falls short in Eugene tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports Herm Edwards opening statement included that Saturday was just another Sun Devil game. Continuing the storyline that has followed them all season, the Sun Devils were once again in a fourth quarter game.

If the Sun Devils prevail Saturday night, the Pac-12 South could very well be wrapped up. Losses from Utah and Arizona would give ASU the title even before the Territorial Cup next weekend.

Down 31-29 with 3:47 left in the game, Manny Wilkins and the offense found themselves in a familiar position. The second-and-9 play on the second play of the drive, Wilkins found his star receiver NKeal Harry for the first down. However, after reviewing the play, Harry didnt make the catch, creating third-and-9. Wilkins couldnt find anyone on the third down play, he was sacked and stripped of the ball for an Oregon recovery.

The Oregon Ducks (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) picked up the one first down they needed to close the door on the Arizona State Sun Devils (6-5, 4-4) Pac-12 South hopes and secure the 31-29 win.

Now, all ASU can do is win the Territorial Cup. With their divisional title hopes gone, Herm Edwards will have to keep his team motivated to beat their rival.

Gave ourselves a chance there at the end. If I give NKeal a better ball on the deep out, wont make the catch so hard for him, Wilkins said. The kid just made a hell of a play, stuck his arm out at the right time on that fumble.

While there are some scares, the Sun Devils survive with a one-score victory to, at least to their knowledge, keep their Pac-12 title hopes alive.

The ASU drive started at their own 46-yard line after freshman safety Cam Phillips picked off Oregons junior quarterback Justin Herbert on a tipped ball. It was one of four turnovers Arizona State created on the night, but it was the only one that did not lead to points.

From there on, the domination continues. Verdell carries for three rushes over 40-yards, keeping the Sun Devil defense on edge and frustrated.

Fellow freshman safety Aashari Crosswell intercepted a pass from Herbert with under two minutes left in the first half. He returned it 50 yards to setup a almost lifeless first half Sun Devil offense. Wilkins found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frank Darby in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown strike. The deficit had closed to 21-13, and the Sun Devils had gained momentum as they headed toward halftime.

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The issue was the momentum never stayed for ASU, Herbert and the Ducks decided to be aggressive with 50 seconds left in the half. Herbert, with the help of poor tackling tackle from the Sun Devils, orchestrated a five play, 71-yard drive in 39 seconds. A handoff to sophomore wide receiver Jaylon Redd on a sweep extended Oregons lead to 28-13.

With two wins, Arizona State can clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game for the first time since 2013.

It was, in the second half we settled down. They had 28 points and all of a sudden we were back in the game, Edwards said. I thought with three minutes left we were going to go down and get ourselves in position to either score a touchdown, or either milk the clock down take as much time as we could — didnt work out for us.

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One constant in Saturdays conference matchup was ASUs second half defense. They allowed just 3 points and 85 yards in the second half, compared to 28 points and 364 yard in the first half. Freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson had some reasonability in the halftime change, as he returned to play in the second half after being suspended for the first half due to a targeting call in the UCLA victory.

Merlin came back, that kind of helped us. I think the adjustments made at halftime, we didnt play very sound in the first half. We messed up our gaps, they ran the ball on us early. Hit a couple passes on us, Edwards said. To hold them in check in the second half, to get back in the game says a lot about our guys.

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In the end, it was who executed better in the most important parts for an offense. Oregon went 7-for-16 on third down, ASU was 3-for-17. Each team had four opportunities in the red zone, and each scored four times. Oregon scored three touchdowns and a field goal, ASU scored three field goals along with a single touchdown. In a football game, some plays matter more than others, in this Pac-12 showdown the Ducks were better on these plays.

Fell a little short, thats kind of how its been for us, Edwards said. Weve lost games by one score. If you win a couple more of those were not sitting in this position, but our record is what it, and fell a little short tonight.

With ever loss since Edwards became the head coach, a play or two can change the outcome from where the Sun Devils currently stand and where they want to be.

In Eugene the two-point conversation after Wilkins one-yard touchdown rush in the fourth quarter to make it a two-point game is one to be questioned. Wilkins faced pressured, but had a enough time to send a ball off to Darby in the back of the end zone. Darby didnt keep his feet in and the conversation was ruled no good.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Chase Lucas had Herbert sacked on a third down blitz in the games opening drive. Lucas didnt get the sack, instead Herbert shed Lucas off for a 11-yard rush to pick up the first down. The drive finished as one of the Ducks four touchdowns in the first half.

Senior running back Tony Brooks-James biggest contribution for his team was a 56-yard kickoff return. The Ducks only gained 29 yards on the drive after the return, thats all they needed. The return set them up well enough for a 29-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Adam Stack, the only points the Ducks scored in the second half. The three points off of Stacks foot ended up being the difference in the game.

The Sun Devils will head to Tucson for their final regular season game against a Wildcats team coming off a 69-28 loss to Washington State. Arizona State will attempt to defend the Territorial Cup, although even if they keep the cup, itll just seem like a consolation prize.

Pick a play from any of ASU losses, change it and the Sun Devils could be heading to Tucson next Saturday fighting for a spot in Santa Clara or already having booked a trip there. But there will be no Pac-12 Championship game for ASU, instead Utah will represent the South. The main theme of Edwards first season in Tempe, no matter the outcome against Arizona, will be what couldve been.


Posted in Eugene