Story by Zach Alvira
It was arguably the most complete game Arizona State has played so far this season.
There were still some blunders, most notable by special teams and at times, the defense. But the Sun Devils went on the road to UCLA and came away with a 42-23 win that showed flashes of what the team was capable of.
That included yet another dominant second-half performance from the defense and an offense that, behind the arm of Jayden Daniels, can put up points in an exciting fashion. It also showed a coaching staff that has begun to thrive in Pac-12 play.
One of those coaches was offensive coordinator Zak Hill, who called plays from the box Saturday night at the Rose Bowl due to a back injury. He was masterful. His eye in the sky played a vital role in Daniels’ ability to slice and dice a Bruin defense that, up until its loss to Fresno State, had played some of its best football in recent years.
“I thought our guys executed our game plan well,” Hill said. “I’ve seen some games where you feel like you’ve got a good game plan, but you don’t hit a few shots, you just miss. And Jayden was able to connect on a lot of those big ones that you hope to hit as a coach. We were able to do that, and I thought we kept them off balance a little bit with the run and the pass.”
Daniels and the offense answered every UCLA score.
Back and forth affair
When UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson connected with wide receiver Kyle Philips for a 3-yard touchdown, Daniels drove the Sun Devils right down the field and set up DeaMonte Trayanum – who returned to action for the first time since the first week of the season – for a 6-yard touchdown.
The two teams went back-and-forth to a point where many believed the last team with possession would end up winning the game. However, Arizona State never let that happen.
“We took advantage of their miscues on defense,” said Daniels, who played Saturday’s game one-day removed from his late grandfather’s birthday. “The game plan was to get the ball in my hands and take shots and we did that.”
The Sun Devils opened the second half in style. It took just four plays for them to go 75 yards – a majority of which came on a 49-yard Rachaad White touchdown run. A two-point conversion run from Trayanum made it a two-possession game.
The defense, which saw the return of senior captain Chase Lucas, shut down UCLA’s potent offense in the second half. Defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce made the necessary adjustments at the half to hold the Bruins scoreless.
They did, however, manage to nearly match Arizona State’s offensive output (458) with 432 yards, but they came away empty handed in the second half while the Sun Devil offense continued piled on points.
Daniels finished 13 of 18 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, both of which to wideout Ricky Pearsall who led the team with 132 receiving yards overall. White, Trayanum and Daniels combined for 176 yards on the ground. The team finished with 172 overall thanks to a couple of losses for four yards.
“We performed and executed plays,” Pearsall said. “We are never satisfied as an offense. “I think this was a really big win for us. A lot of guys are having fun and I think that is a big part of it.”
It was the type of performance the hundreds, if not thousands, of Sun Devil fans who made the trip to the Rose Bowl wanted to see. And it was the type of win Arizona State needed after its last road trip that ended in peril to BYU.
The family. 🔱💛
Thank you for all your love and support tonight, #SunDevilNation! pic.twitter.com/0fkAxZaCyh
— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) October 3, 2021
Destiny under control
The win also set the Sun Devils up to now control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South and had UCLA fans questioning the direction of the program as they headed toward the exits in the fourth quarter.
“This is terrible, this is going downhill really fast,” one fan said while another called the Bruins’ performance against Arizona State, “terrible.”
Despite the dismay of Bruin fans, Arizona State still has issues of its own to fix before they can start thinking of another trip to the Rose Bowl in January.
While the Sun Devils were only flagged six times, they were the type of mistakes that fall on the coaches as much as the players. Arizona State at one point couldn’t rotate players fast enough and were flagged for illegal substitution. It led to a UCLA touchdown.
Arizona State’s defense had finally forced a UCLA punt for the first time late in the second quarter before the Sun Devils were flagged for having too many players on the field. The Bruins capitalized with a field goal. DJ Taylor, an electric return-man for the Sun Devils had hat turned out to be a not-so-costly mistake at the end of the first half when he tried to field a punt but muffed it. UCLA was held to just a field goal as it took place just seconds before the half.
“Young player wanting to make a play,” Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards said. “That’s the learning moments you have to teach guys about.”
Arizona State knows all too well it can’t get too comfortable at the top of the south rankings. The Sun Devils play a Stanford team on a short week that just knocked off third-ranked Oregon.
The rest of the season won’t be easy by any means, especially if they still make avoidable mistakes. But they took a step in the right direction Saturday night, one that may have the so-called experts penciling them in for a trip back to Pasadena when it’s all said and done.
“It’s a week-to-week situation in the Pac-12,” Edwards said. “You never know what is going to happen. We can’t celebrate too long. We’ve got a good team in Stanford, so we have to get ready and prepare all of a sudden.”