Oregon St. upset drops ASU football from playoff picture

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                </div>  Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., is turning out to be the place where Arizona State football hopes go to die. Saturday’s loss to the Oregon State Beavers marks the […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., is turning out to be the place where Arizona State football hopes go to die.

Saturday’s loss to the Oregon State Beavers marks the fifth straight time the Sun Devils have lost to the Beavers in Reser.  But this one was a real killer because it essentially knocked ASU out of the four-team playoff that will decide a national champion this year.

Had ASU lost the week before to Notre Dame, it wouldn’t have created a tremor across the college football landscape, as long as they put up a good challenge.  Actually, the Devils went into that game as the No. 9 team in the country, while Notre Dame was ranked No. 10.

ASU beat the Irish, 55-31, and looked in a good position to climb the rankings even further – which they did, moving up to No. 6 – and play for a Pac-12 crown.

And that’s why the 35-27 loss to Oregon State seven days later is so mystifying.  The Beavers were on a four-game losing skid and hadn’t beaten a ranked team since the early days of the 2012 season.  Their last win over a top-10 team was even farther back, when they beat No. 9 Arizona four years ago.

This was a program struggling just to get to .500 this season.  It had just one conference win.

But when OSU quarterback Sean Mannion took a knee on three consecutive plays to end Saturday’s game, the symbolism wasn’t lost on the crowd of 40,525 that showed up in frigid temperatures to support a team that was just barely hanging on this year.

It was the ASU defense that was on their knees much of the game, trying to hold down a Beaver offense that pounded out 247 rushing yards and 498 yards of total offense.  The Beavers used a quick-strike approach to gaining their yards that included a 78-yard scoring run on the second possession of the game, a 66-yard run to the end zone later in the first quarter, and a 66-yard pass play in the fourth quarter that put the Beavers ahead for good.

“Sometimes when you blitz, it can be feast or famine,” OSU head coach Mike Riley said about the long-yardage plays.  “ASU has been very successful blitzing, but the more people you blitz, if you get past that first line, you’ve got a chance for a big play – throwing or running.”

Arizona State’s head coach Todd Graham had a slightly different perspective on letting the Beavers get away with some big plays: “We just weren’t ready to play.  We just did a really poor job.  I know they did a great job of what they were doing.  We got on our heels and didn’t trust what we were supposed to do.”

But it was also steady work by the OSU running backs that helped keep the ASU defense off the field as much as possible.  Both of their featured backs enjoyed a 100-yard game at the expense of the Devils.  Senior tailback Terron Ward ran for 148 yards and junior tailback Storm Woods picked up another 125.

It was the first time ASU gave up 100 yards to two backs in the same game since USC did it in September of 2013.  And the last time OSU accomplished the feat was back in 2007.

Another stat was even more surprising.  ASU, which led 24-14 at halftime, hadn’t lost a game after leading at halftime since Graham took over three seasons ago – 23 games to be exact.  But this time, the Beavers scored 21 of the final 24 points of the game and held the Devils to just 100 yards of offense and three points in the second half to break that string.

ASU’s senior quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 264 yards on a 22-of-44 night and connected for a pair of touchdowns.  But he also had two interceptions, the last of which was the final nail in the coffin.  A pass attempt was picked off by Michael Doctor with less than two minutes on the clock and returned 35 yards for a score to put the Beavers up eight points and put a damper on any hopes for an ASU comeback.

The Sun Devils finished with 367 yards of total offense, aided by a 103-yard performance by Jaelen Strong, who pulled down nine of Kelly’s passes.  And running back D.J. Foster contributed 116 all-purpose yards, 65 of which were through the air.

Kelly also picked up 15 yards rushing, which makes him the first quarterback in school history to rush for more than 1,400 yards; he now has 1,411.  And his 8,203 passing yards makes him just the fourth player in program history to throw for more than 8,000 yards in a career.

The ASU defense was led by Marcus Hardison‘s performance that included two sacks and three total tackles for loss.

“When you’re sixth in the country and go into a place, you’re going to get everybody’s best performance,” Graham pointed out after the loss.  “We got Oregon State’s best shot tonight and we weren’t prepared for it.”

While they won’t be a sixth-ranked team any longer this weekend, they’ll still get Washington State’s best shot.

But you can be sure they’ll be better prepared for Saturday morning’s home game.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)