Todd Graham gave his Arizona State football team Friday and Saturday off before resuming a normal practice schedule on Sunday.
Maybe it was to give his players time to reflect on the 62-27 disaster in Thursday’s meeting with UCLA.
Maybe it was to let everyone associated with the program recover from the trauma that comes with shell shock.
Maybe he just wanted to hide for awhile and not have to answer any more questions about what happened. Particularly those from the media.
Actually, at the time it was difficult to accurately assess what was happening. It was swift and frightening. Until now, no visiting team had ever scored 62 points against an ASU team in Sun Devil Stadium.
For the first 15 minutes of the game in Tempe, No. 15 ASU played straight up with the No. 11 Bruins, scoring 10 points and holding the visitors to a couple of field goals. After a little more than a quarter of play, ASU looked similar to the team that had started the season 3-0; they were up 17-6 on the Bruins.
But then the roof fell in. The visitors turned a short pass play into an 80-yard touchdown that quickly quieted the stands and then, within minutes, marched back down the field 90 yards for another score.
The one that broke the back of the Sun Devils came just before the half ended. Mike Bercovici, filling in for the injured Taylor Kelly, threw an interception at the Bruin five-yard line that was returned the length of the field to give UCLA a 27-17 halftime lead. It was one of two Bercovici picks on the night.
An 80-yard UCLA touchdown run on the first play of the third quarter further destroyed the ASU psyche and it was like a log rolling downhill from there on. The Bruins ran up 580 yards of offense and quarterback Brett Hundley shredded a previously-untested Devil secondary, completing 18 of his 23 pass attempts for 355 yards.
Somehow, ASU countered with 626 yards of its own offense. Despite some inconsistent play and problems with ball security, Bercovici finished the night with 488 yards. His 68 attempts and 42 completions set school records.
But the ground game was practically non-existent. ASU’s leading rusher, D.J. Foster, was held to 30 yards and the leading ball carrier on the night was Deantre Lewis, who contributed just 46 yards on nine carries. Foster had entered the game averaging 170 yards.
Not surprisingly, the Sun Devils are no longer a nationally-ranked program in the AP poll. (USA Today Coaches’ Poll slotted them at No. 24)
And it will be interesting to see what effect the embarrassing loss and fall in the rankings will have on student support. The excitement of a strong start to the season led to optimism that brought out 12,996 students for the UCLA game – a school record.
But winning cures all apathy and a win this weekend over No. 18 USC would do wonders to keep the kids’ attention – not to mention the rest of Sun Devil nation. And it would also help salvage a bid to repeat as the Pac-12’s South Division winner. For what it’s worth, the Devils were picked in the preseason to finish third in the south, behind… yep, UCLA and USC.
Graham may have given his players a couple of days off this week, but you can bet he was busy during that time studying film and huddling with his coaching staff to try and figure out what it’s going to take to get past this train wreck that could be the start of something ugly. And that will happen if he doesn’t right the ship soon enough.
The problem is, his defense isn’t going to mature enough in the nine days between the last game and the next game. He’s had to put young and inexperienced players in a starting line-up that lost nine players from last year. And they let him down against UCLA. The defense that had held together against three lesser opponents simply fell apart when faced with a team that some observers in the preseason were expecting to challenge for a national title.
But Graham took the heat for his team’s defensive performance in the presser following the game. “Pathetic tackling, big play after big play,” he groused. “Obviously, we did not do a very good job of preparing them.”
If, in fact, last week’s implosion can be attributed to a lack of preparation, that would be a good thing.
Because that can be corrected in nine days.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)