Some things, now matter how much effort is put into changing them, never change. Such is the case with Arizona State's self-destructive tendencies.
Once thought as an absolute certainty, the Sun Devils' dream of a Pac-12 South division title and spot in the conference championship game are now in jeopardy after their game against UCLA. Last season's on-going nightmare--misses in the kicking game--returned with a malicious vengeance on Saturday night.
The first quarter began much like most of ASU's road games this season. After a Sun Devil punt on the opening drive, the Bruins methodically drove 89-yards in eight plays, highlighted by two Kevin Prince runs for 48 yards. The drive ended successfully with an 11-yard touchdown run by Johnathan Franklin.
As they had many times this season, the Sun Devil offense responded. Behind the strong running of Cameron Marshall, the Devil drove into Bruin territory where Brock Osweiler found wide receiver A.J. Pickens on a crossing pattern for a 36-yard touchdown.
The running games for both teams were in full force for the remainder of the first half.
Marshall scored a 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, but the Bruins tandem of Franklin and Derrick Coleman led the way for resurgence late, as a Coleman touchdown gave UCLA the halftime lead. The teams combined for 225 rushing yards in the first half, led by Marshall's 102.
The second half got off to a disastrous start for Arizona State.
On the opening drive, UCLA took advantage of a Sun Devil defense that was cheating towards the run. A brilliantly executed play action and pump fake allowed Prince to find a wide open Nelson Rosario for a 76-yard touchdown, extending the Bruins' lead to 23-14.
The ASU defense was later bailed out when a 40-yard Franklin run was negated by penalty. That backed the Bruins up inside their own five-yard line, and the resulting punt gave the Sun Devils a short field to work with.
They capitalized, as their ensuing five play drive ended with a dazzling Jamal Miles touchdown reception that featured an amazing spin move, closing the gap to 23-21.
As the fourth quarter began, things looked bleak for ASU. UCLA was continuing to gash the defensive front of the Sun Devils and moved inside the ASU 30-yard line. However, the nations' fifth best turnover defense forced a Franklin fumble and recovered it to thwart the Bruin threat.
The ensuing drive went nowhere and the Devils were forced to punt.
However, they got the ball back with 11:07 left in the game at their own seven. In a masterful drive, ASU's top playmakers-Osweiler, Marshall and Gerrell Robinson-methodically moved down the field. Marshall ran for 39 yards and Robinson had 49 yards receiving on a drive that culminated in a Osweiler rushing touchdown on a goal line sneak.
The good fortune seemed to continue. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Josh Smith, with ASU's Brandon Johnson recovering. However, the drive stalled and the 36-yard field goal by Alex Garoutte was missed as he shanked it wide left.
That miss would loom large.
Behind the hard running of Coleman, the Bruins drove down the field. However, after an offensive pass interference call set up a third and 29 for UCLA at the ASU 39-yard line. Prince was able to exploit blown coverage by Alden Darby to find Rosario for a gain of 33. Three plays later, Coleman pounded the ball in for the go head score. The ensuing two-point conversion was no good and UCLA took a narrow 29-28 lead.
The final drive was rife with controversy.
Osweiler found Robinson near midfield, but as he was going down, he inexplicably threw the ball forward and out of bounds. However, after review, it was determined his knee was down, thus negating the penalty. On the next play, a defensive pass interference call moved the ball to the Bruins' 41, and a 12-yard reception by Mike Willie gave Garoutte a chance for redemption with a 46-yard attempt.
The snap was good. The hold was good.
The kick was terrible, falling short and wide right.
UCLA is now in first place in the South division, and ASU now needs some help to make it to what was once thought a certainty-the Pac-12 title game.