Three of the top 10 college teams in the national rankings lost yesterday. But only Arizona State‘s upset of No. 7 UCLA can be considered a statement win.
The other two teams lost to ranked opponents, No. 6 Notre Dame to No. 12 Clemson and No. 8 Georgia to No. 13 Alabama. But the Sun Devils were unranked going into their game with the seventh-ranked Bruins.
In addition, ASU was coming off a 42-14 loss to USC in their Pac-12 opener and had a psychological mountain to climb to get back on track after starting the season 2-2 – a season when some of the top analysts in the country had even predicted a possible appearance among the four teams that will play in the College Football Playoffs.
But the 38-23 win on the road at the Rose Bowl has become one of several signature wins during Todd Graham‘s three-plus seasons in charge of the program – and restored the faith ASU fans had in their team when the 2015 season began with much hype and fanfare.
This stunner also set a new mark for the program that predates Graham. It is the first win against a Top-10 opponent in the last 13 years that was accomplished on the road in a hostile environment. The Sun Devils beat then- No. 6 Oregon in Eugene in 2002.
“You never doubted yourselves, you never doubted each other,” Graham said in the locker room after the game, telling his players how proud he was of the way each one had contributed to the win. “It was about everybody tonight, it was a team effort.”
He also made sure they understood what it took to earn this win against a team that pushed them to the limit. UCLA began a comeback in the fourth quarter, scoring twice in a span of just minutes to narrow the ASU lead to 29-23. “Man, give it everything you’ve got,” he said in reminding them what it took to win this one, “and when you’re dead tired and can’t go no more, give a little bit more…that’s how we’re trained, that’s how we do everything we do.”
A safety and a nine-play, 70-yard drive pushed the score to 38-23. The end of that final drive will have to be one of the memories fans will recall when thinking back on this one. Sophomore running back Kalen Ballage refused to be taken down on the final play and carried a mix of Bruin defenders and his own teammates in an impromptu huddle the last 17 yards – running backward the whole way, but keeping upright until he crossed the goal line.
Ballage finished the game with 59 yards on 11 rushes, behind Demario Richard who was the work horse of the night, carrying 23 times for 79 yards, while also adding 55 receiving yards.
Senior quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 273 yards (27-for-44) and a touchdown, and ran for another 37 yards and a TD.
D.J. Foster, the senior from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, led the receiving corps with 57 yards on four receptions, but his first of the night set a new school record as he marked the 45th straight game with a reception. He’s now also second in all-time career catches with 189.
And give the ASU defense a ton of credit for pulling this one off. The Bruins came into the game ranked 22nd in the nation, averaging 236 yards rushing per outing. The Devils’ D unit held UCLA to a season-low 62 total yards on the ground.
Salamo Fiso led the way with eight solo tackles, followed by Christian Sam with seven, and Jordan Simone with six solo and two assists.
The defense will need to step up again next Saturday when the Sun Devils host Colorado. The Buffaloes had a strong performance against Oregon last night, going into halftime tied at 17-17 before the Ducks pulled away in the second half for a 41-24 win. Prior to that, the Buffs won three straight, averaging just over 40 points a game.
A big win against Colorado will give the Sun Devils a chance to prove their play against UCLA is going to be the norm going forward, and not just a flash in the pan.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)