When Mike Bercovici dove into the end zone from two yards out late in the second quarter of yesterday’s annual rivalry game to put Arizona State up 21-7, the Sun Devils had already stacked up 263 yards of offense. And the Arizona Wildcats had managed just 62 yards.
That’s when Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez decided he had seen enough and turned to back-up quarterback Brandon Dawkins to see if he could light a fire under his offense.
The move helped as the Cats began putting points on the board and had closed the scoring gap to just eight points. The honeymoon lasted until the final 3:33 of the game. That’s when Dawkins threw an interception to ASU’s freshman safety, Kareem Orr, who ran it back 21 yards for the score that would put the Devils up two scores and essentially put the game out of reach.
That INT was the fifth for Orr this season, which sets a school record, and the two interceptions for a score in a single game is the first time that’s happened this season.
A minute after Orr’s pick, redhshirt senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington piled on with another interception to seal the win as ASU posted a 52-37 Senior Day victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 64,855 at Sun Devil Stadium. Senior Day has been good to ASU head coach Todd Graham. He’s never lost a game on Senior Day during his four years in Tempe.
“This senior group is just really a special, special group,” Graham told the media after the game. “Really proud of how our guys played today: offense, defense, special teams. “I thought we brought the fight. I thought we were the aggressor. I thought we physically dominated the game.
“Got after them pretty good.”
Dawkins completed 16 of his 30 pass attempts for 305 yards to try and pull his Wildcats through this one. Jerrard Randall started the game in place of Anu Solomon, who was still recovering from an injury suffered the previous game against Utah. Randall led the Cats to the huge upset win over No. 10 Utah, but this time the magic just wasn’t there.
Bercovici’s stats were very similar to those Dawkins put up, completing 12 of 32 for 315 yards and two TDs.
The Sun Devils also had a couple of 100-yard rushers to help get the job done offensively. Kalen Ballage ran for 110 yards and Demariio Richard added another 105. Dawkins led Arizona rushers with 78 yards.
This is the fourth year for both head coaches and this win means ASU’s Graham has now beaten Rodriguez three out of the four times they’ve played, the exception being last year when Arizona pulled out a 42-35 win in Tucson. That victory was an especially important one for the Cats because it also earned them the Pac-12 South Division title.
Graham has always found a way to put up plenty of points in these Territorial Cup games. ASU has scored 40 or more points in each of his three rivalry wins and 50 points in two of the last three games.
Arizona is done with the regular season, but are bowl eligible with six wins. But at 6-6 overall and 3-6 in conference, an invitation is questionable – unless the upset of Utah generates some interest.
ASU is now bowl eligible, thanks to yesterday’s win, but has one more game yet to play. The Devils will travel to Berkeley to take on California and try to hike their overall record to 7-5. Another conference win would also enable them to finish with a winning record in Pac-12 play; they’re sitting at 4-4 after the Arizona win.
There is some speculation that this rivalry may have to go on without Rodriguez. Both South Carolina and Virginia Tech are looking for new head coaches, and that’s Rich Rod’s old stomping grounds. He’s likely among the leading candidates at Virginia Tech, which is his home state, and could also be on the short list at South Carolina. He played at West Virginia and also had a successful coaching run there before taking the job at Michigan, which lasted just three years.
If Rodriguez leaves, you can bet that yesterday’s game is not the way he wanted to end his Pac-12 career.
Maybe some bowl committee out there will give him a chance to correct that.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)