The difference between the Sun Devils’ loss and the Wildcats’ win yesterday was the strength of their grip.
Arizona State lost its grip on a one -point lead and succumbed to Matt Barkley’s 64-yard drive that resulted in a UCLA field goal as time ran out to give the Bruins the 45-43 win. Arizona had to come from behind in the second half, but once the Cats got the lead over USC they refused to give it up and pulled out a 39-36 win.
For Arizona, the win over the No. 10-ranked Trojans became the signature victory of Rich Rodriguez’s first year as the new head coach in Tucson – and helps wash away the stench from an earlier 49-0 loss to No. 3 Oregon.
Yesterday’s results also changed the momentum for both teams, kind of a role reversal for each. Arizona is recovering from a three-game losing streak and has now won two in a row after beating Washington last week, and now USC. Arizona State was on a three-game win streak, but now has two straight losses, a humiliating beat-down by the Oregon Ducks last week and now a heart-breaker to UCLA.
Both teams played well enough to rally from deficits, put plenty of points on the board, and kept enough defensive pressure on the opponent to keep the games interesting throughout. It was also a home game for each.
From the looks of it right now, that Nov. 23 rivalry game in Tucson between the two teams to close out the season should be a real barn-burner.
Arizona got huge games from fifth-year quarterback Matt Scott and his favorite receiver of the game, Austin Hill. Scott finished with 469 yards that included 369 passing and three scores, combined with another 100 yards and a score rushing. Hill had a career night, pulling in 10 Scott passes for 259 yards.
But the Cats had to play catch-up most of the game; the Trojans led 21-13 at the half. Arizona almost evened the score early in the second half, but a failed two-point conversion left them still short, 28-26. However, a seven-yard TD run by Ka’Deem Carey gave the Cats a 32-28 lead and a seven-yard TD reception by David Richards put Arizona up two scores.
After USC pulled to within three points, thanks to a 72-yard kickoff return by Marqise Lee, Barkley tried to pull out the win with an unsuccessful desperation ‘Hail Mary’ pass from midfield in the final seconds of the game. Lee finished with 345 yards on 16 catches, for a new Pac-12 record.
For Scott, the win was especially sweet because he was able to best an old rival. He and Barkley last met in high school in California when Scott’s Centennial High School was ranked No. 2 nationally and Barkley’s Mater Dei High School was No. 5.
Barkley won that one, throwing for 364 yards to lead Mater Dei to a 51-37 win, while Scott put up some pretty gaudy numbers as well, passing for 170 yards and running for another 176.
But yesterday it was Scott’s turn to be the gracious winner – even though Barkley set a USC record by throwing for 493 yards on 31-of-49 attempts. Barkley offset that somewhat with a pair of interceptions, while Scott was picked once.
The Wildcats also had the game’s leading rusher on their side. Carey, the impressive sophomore from Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School, carried his usual heavy load of 28 carries and picked up 119 yards and a touchdown.
Carey, who was recently put on the watch list for the Maxwell Award for the nation’s top player, piled up 172 yards the week before against Washington. The 119 against USC gives him four games in a row with 100 or more and the sixth of the season.
If you like offense, this was the place to be. The two teams combined for 1,206 yards, with USC holding the slight edge, 618-588.
Over in Tempe, there was more of the same. Fans could have picked either game and got their money’s worth.
ASU’s redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 315 yards and four touchdowns in the losing effort against UCLA. But it was the local youngster that eluded ASU’s recruiting nets that came back to bite the Devils in the butt. Brett Hundley, the redshirt freshman from Chandler High School, slashed the ASU secondary to complete 19 of 29 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns.
One local prep prospect that didn’t get away from ASU, D.J. Foster, led the Sun Devil rushers with 61 yards on 13 carries. Right behind the freshman from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale was the senior running back, Cameron Marshall, who picked up 57 yards on 18 carries.
On paper, this game was pretty well balanced. Arizona State had 29 first downs to 25 for the Bruins. UCLA rushed for 220 yards , ASU for 212. And the passing was weighted just slightly toward UCLA, 315 -274 yards.
But all that matters is that ASU has dropped to 3-2 in conference, farther away from the top of the heap that was within reach just a few games ago.
And it has killed much of the momentum and excitement that first-year coach Todd Graham brought to a program that hasn’t been able to enjoy a winning season in four years.
But hey, it’s college football… you never know which way that pointed ball is going to bounce.