TEMPE, Ariz. – Coaches, players and support staff may never have lost confidence, but the fans and media — both local and national — most certainly did.
But now that Arizona State has a win over then-No. 7 UCLA, knocking the Bruins from the ranks of the unbeaten, the line to jump back on the Sun Devil football bandwagon forms to the right, thank you.
The 38-23 victory at the Rose Bowl — ASU’s first road win over a Top 10 team in 13 years — displayed the type of performances on offense, defense and special teams worthy of the preseason hype, yet not revealed during the season’s first month.
“In all three phases, I thought, every player gave everything they got,” head coach Todd Graham said Monday during his weekly press conference. “There was a determination about that that was really special, and so we got to match that and continue to take that each week to the next level.”
Prior to the matchup with UCLA, the Sun Devils had not played a complete game.
They looked shell-shocked against Texas A&M in the season opener and were embarrassed by USC just last week. In between, they struggled to beat Cal Poly and New Mexico, their depth and talent finally winning out over inferior competition.
Then on Saturday in Pasadena, ASU (3-2, 1-1) put it all together.
The offense scored a season-high 38 points; the defense held UCLA to a season-worst 62 yards rushing, part of a season-low 342 total yard effort, aided by eight three-and-outs; while special teams excelled in both the return (Tim White 129 yards) and kicking game.
“Obviously, we never doubted our self and these guys believe in each other and believe in what we’re doing. It’s frustrating when you’re not playing to your potential, and it’s frustrating when you just can’t seem to get things clicking,” Graham said.
“Our guys showed what they’re made of. We gained a lot of confidence in that game.”
A game, according to Graham, the Sun Devils had to win to remain legitimate contenders in the Pac-12 South. A second loss to an L.A. school, while not season-ending, would’ve severely damaged their chances to play in the conference championship game.
“It was vital. Our backs were against the wall,” Graham said. “We had to get it done to stay alive, and so we’re still alive and we got a lot of work left to be done.”
Graham mentioned he noticed a “sense of urgency” with his team from the moment they hit the field for the first practice of the week last Tuesday.
“We really did prove to ourselves that practice makes perfect,” quarterback Mike Bercovici said.
For his performance — 310 total yards and three touchdowns, including two passing and one rushing, which was a career-long 34-yard score — Bercovici was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.
Punter Matt Haack earned the conference’s special teams honor plus the national Ray Guy Award Player of the Week.
Five of Haack’s eight punts landed inside the 20-yard line, including the final one, a 46-yard boot out of bounds on the UCLA 1-yard line forcing the Bruins to have to go 99 yards to reclaim the lead with 5:06 remaining in the game.
“Obviously an incredible win for our team but the message today is that we’re moving on. It’s a new week. This is the most important week of the year, playing Colorado,” Bercovici said, referring to Saturday’s game. “Our mentality is the same way; we’re going to stay true to our self and at the end of the day come out of the week 1-0, that’s the message.”
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