A game Arizona State was expected to dominate, something head coach Todd Graham himself vocally anticipated, never materialized.
The Sun Devils struggled and at times were out-played by lower-division Cal Poly, but they escaped victorious in their home opener, 35-21, on Saturday night.
Redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici threw fourth-quarter touchdowns on consecutive possessions to pull out the win, first finding redshirt junior tight end Kody Kohl and then redshirt junior wide receiver Tim White.
ASU (1-1) entered the game as 33.5 point favorites.
Bercovici finished 23-of-35 for 283 yards and three scores. He was also intercepted.
The Sun Devils totaled 531 yards, 121 of which belonged to sophomore running back Demario Richard who scored twice in the second quarter, the second of which gave ASU a two-score lead, 21-7.
Cal Poly (1-1), however, wouldn’t go away, and appeared to confuse the Sun Devils with its triple-option attack.
Cal Poly rushed for 284 yards, while passing for 46, and had the game tied at 21 with 11:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The win improved ASU to 4-0 over Cal Poly in the series history.
With his 15-yard catch on the Sun Devils first offensive snap, senior D.J. Foster extended his run of at least one reception to 42 games, or every game of his ASU career. It’s the longest active streak in FBS and trails only John Jefferson’s school record of 44.
It was Foster who put the first points on the board, catching a 14-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play, 77-yard drive seven minutes into the first quarter. The play marked the 30th time in 42 games with Graham at the helm that the Sun Devils scored first, something ASU accomplished in all but four games in 2014.
For the second time in as many weeks, sophomore linebacker Christian Sam recorded a first-half sack. He dropped Chris Brown for a two-yard loss on Cal Poly’s second series. Sam then picked up a second sack in the final minute of the first quarter.
What a difference a week makes. After totaling 73 yards on 16 attempts with no touchdowns against Texas A&M, Richard’s first 16 carries amounted to 77 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the second quarter with the second giving the Sun Devils a 21-7 lead.
One of the few second-half bright spots was redshirt senior receiver Devin Lucien, the graduate transfer from UCLA. He caught four balls for 39 yards to finish with a season-best seven receptions for 79 yards.
Special teams for the Sun Devils was whistled for the team’s first two penalties of the game with both called against freshman Kareem Orr. He was first guilty of kick-catch interference and then later in the second quarter caught using illegal hands to the face. ASU ended the game with three penalties, none against the offense.
The second Cal Poly touchdown—a Chris Brown one-yard run—was set up by the one and only turnover of the first half, Kohl’s fumble following a 14-yard catch, a play that was determined by replay. Cal Poly took over at the ASU 46 and marched 10 plays in 2:22 to pull the Mustangs to within 21-14 at halftime.
Boos directed at the home team could be heard early in the third quarter after Cal Poly tied the game at 21. The Mustangs came out of the locker room with an eight-play, 75-yard drive which ended with Brown’s first completed pass—and just his second pass attempt—a 21-yard throw to a wide open Reagan Enger.
The boos continued after a second Sun Devil turnover, this one in the red zone and even worse, in the end zone. Midway through the third quarter, Bercovici was picked off by Fernando Cabico on 4th-and-goal at the two. The three previous plays: Richard rush for no gain, Richard rush for loss of one, incomplete pass.
Injuries knocked four Sun Devils out of the game: junior defensive lineman Viliami Latu, redshirt junior running back De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes (following a 57-yard kickoff return), sophomore safety Armand Perry and redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Longino. There was no immediate word as to the severity.
STAT OF THE GAME
14: The number of fourth-quarter points scored by the Sun Devils to pull away for the win
HE SAID IT
“We didn’t come out here overlooking anybody,” Bercovici said. “At the end of the day we came out on top…and that’s a win for Sun Devil football.”
– ASU improved its home opener win streak to 17 consecutive games, a run that is good for the sixth-longest streak in the country
– ASU improved to 19-0 over the Big Sky Conference since 1947
– Redshirt freshman left tackle Sam Jones got his first career start in his first career game, replacing redshirt junior Evan Goodman who had been limited in practice all week
– Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell moved from the sidelines to the pressbox to call plays for the first time
– Scouts from four NFL teams—Cardinals, Chiefs, Saints and Redskins—were in attendance
A second straight home game awaits the Sun Devils, though next week they’ll shun the traditional Saturday date.
Instead, a Friday start, September 18 to be exact, ASU hosts New Mexico. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Out of the Mountain West Conference, New Mexico is 1-1 after a home loss to Tulsa, 40-21.
Last season, the Sun Devils beat the Lobos on the road, 58-23, their 18th straight victory in the series.
ASU is 23-5-1, including 12-1-1 inside Sun Devil Stadium, all-time against New Mexico.