‘Very embarrassed’ says Graham in ASU’s 37-23 bowl loss

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                </div>  Down two touchdowns to Texas Tech in last night’s Holiday Bowl, Arizona State had a chance to score just before the first half ended.  An impressive 16-play, 70-yard drive […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Down two touchdowns to Texas Tech in last night’s Holiday Bowl, Arizona State had a chance to score just before the first half ended.  An impressive 16-play, 70-yard drive came up empty when the Sun Devils unexpectedly rushed their field-goal unit onto the field with the clock running and 13 seconds left in the half.  The confusing hurried attempt on third down by Zane Gonzalez went wide and the half ended with the Red Raiders up 27-13.  This was not a sterling example of clock management.

When the second half started, it took the Devils just a minute and 47 seconds to score on a 44-yard TD run by quarterback Taylor Kelly, the longest of his career.  ASU was coming back.

However, 11 seconds later Reginald Davis returned the Sun Devils kick-off 90 yards to put Texas Tech back up by two scores.

That’s the kind of night it was in San Diego for the No. 14-ranked Sun Devils, who had entered the game as 22-point favorites – and lost to the Red Raiders by 14 points, a margin the Texas team held most of the night.  The 37-23 upset followed a similar 38-14 loss to then-No. 5 Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game and closes out the 2013 season with a 10-4 record, leaving second-year head coach Todd Graham one game shy of posting  just the second 11-win season at ASU in 38 seasons.

But that mark on history had little chance of making it into the books.  This game appeared doomed from the start.

Texas Tech put the ASU defenders back on their heels right out of the box, driving 77 yards in 14 plays on their first possession to put up the first score, and then adding a second touchdown after the Sun Devils went three-and-out.  It was a pattern that ASU couldn’t escape as the Devils went 0-for-6 on their first six third-down conversion attempts.

The Red Raiders seemed to be playing at a different speed than ASU, which, ironically, has built a reputation on its own up-tempo game.  Texas Tech averages a play every 19.2 seconds and showed the Devils how an effective hurry-up offense operates.

Texas Tech also came into the game sporting the No. 2 passing offense in the country.  And freshman quarterback Davis Webb showed the Devils how they earned that distinction.  He shredded the ASU defense for 301 yards in the first half, completing passes to nine different receivers, as the Sun Devil secondary gave up one big play after another – a problem that continued all night long.

If Tech hadn’t fumbled the ball away on a kick-off return run and a mishandled kick-off catch, the score might have been even uglier.

After the game, Graham didn’t mince words in acknowledging his team’s lack of focus and failure to prepare adequately for this game and took personal responsibility for the lack of preparation, saying he was “embarrassed for our fans that showed up.” There were reportedly about 22,000 ASU fans that made the trek to Cali.

Graham addressed the issue in his comments to the media after the game: “Congratulations to Coach Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech.  They came to play.  They outplayed us.

“(I’m) very embarrassed for our program.  As coaches, we didn’t have our guys prepared to play.”

Despite posting a 10-win season, soundly beating rival Arizona, and winning the Pac-12 South Division, the loss to Stanford was a crushing blow because the Sun Devils had a legitimate chance to get back to the Rose Bowl this year.  There was a lot of speculation before this game as to whether the Devils could mentally come back from that loss.  It appears they couldn’t.

D.J. Foster, the sophomore running back from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, joined with his junior quarterback in leading the way in the ASU ground game.  Foster, who was picking up big chunks of real estate to keep the Devils in the game in the second half, finished with 132 yards, a career high for him since he was carrying the load without his injured running mate, Marion Grice, in the line-up.  Kelly added 135 yards, also a career high, while going 16-for-29 passing for another 125 yards.

ASU will get another shot at Texas Tech, but it may not be for a few years.  The two schools recently agreed to a two-game home-and-home series that has been dropped into the 2016 and 2017 schedules.

Based on the way Graham has been succeeding at his re-building effort in Tempe, he may still be on the sidelines when the Red Raiders come to town three years from now.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)