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Trying to break down ASU’s mind-boggling loss to Oregon

Arizona State's Mike Bercovici (2) throws the football against Oregon during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

LISTEN: Todd Graham, ASU football head coach

TEMPE, Ariz. – I just witnessed a football game that lasted four hours and three minutes.

There were 177 offensive plays run, 1,243 total yards gained and 116 points scored.

The Oregon Ducks beat the Arizona State Sun Devils 61-55 in triple overtime at Sun Devil Stadium Thursday night in front of 56,534 fans, many of whom left the venue scratching their heads.

I’ll do the same.

From ASU’s early-game offensive struggles, to Oregon’s porous defense to the Sun Devils’ incredulous play-calling at key junctures of the game, so little of it makes any sense.

I’ll try to encapsulate what I’m talking about.

I don’t understand Oregon’s strategy to not use Royce Freeman more – Freeman still played a big factor in the win for the Ducks, but still only got 15 carries on the night. Freeman had three straight games of 27 carries – he was unstoppable in all three, gaining 547 yards and averaging almost seven yards per carry.

While the Ducks led the entire first half, Freeman got just five carries.

I don’t understand ASU abandoning their running game in overtime – Following the contest, Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham was asked about offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s play calling at the tail end of the game.

Specifically, Norvell’s decision to call two pass plays with facing a first-and goal at the Oregon 3-yard line in triple overtime.

“I can’t fault anything that the offense did,” Graham said. “They had 742 yards. We talk about overtime – the team that runs the ball in overtime wins. I’m not going to second-guess anything, they deserved to win.”

Considering Graham’s statement and the fact that ASU ran for 344 yards on the night, those pass plays don’t make sense. On first down, quarterback Mike Bercovici tried a pass to Tim White in the middle of the field. It was nearly intercepted. On second down, Bercovici attempted a slant pass again. This time it was tipped and intercepted by Oregon’s Arrion Springs to end the game.

The senior quarterback shouldered the blame.

“The play was called in and we executed it,” he said. “As a quarterback, it’s on myself to make sure the ball gets completed and gets thrown away. It’s on me, at the end of the game, putting the ball in jeopardy like that.”

It wasn’t the only costly interception. Leading 41-34 with just over five minutes to play, Bercovici drove the Sun Devils down to the Oregon 48-yard line. On first down, he thought the Ducks defense had jumped offsides, meaning a free play. He threw downfield, but the ball was picked off by Tyree Robinson at the Oregon 21-yard line. No flag was thrown. A field goal likely would have put the game on ice.

Neither Demario Richard nor Kalen Ballage got a carry in overtime. That duo combined for 262 yards on the night.


I don’t understand how Oregon’s defense can be so bad just one year after playing for a national title – ASU’s offense played well, but a lot can be contributed to the Ducks’ generous defense. The Sun Devils’ 742 yards were the third-most in a single game in program history. Their previous high this year was 491 against Colorado.

Thursday marked the fourth time Oregon had yielded more than 500 yards and 40 points in a game. Somehow, they’re 2-2 in those contests.

I don’t understand how an officiating crew can look at a replay for so long, and still miss a call – Oregon’s game-clinching touchdown – a 20-yard pass from Vernon Adams to Bralon Addison – was originally ruled a score by referee Land Clark and his crew. Replays showed Addison’s toe was on the white line in the back of the end zone. After a lengthy review, the call stood. Three plays later, Bercovici threw the game-sealing interception.

I don’t understand Oregon’s insistence on Addison playing “quarterback” – On three separate occasions, including the all-important two-point conversion attempt in the third overtime, the Ducks called on the receiver to line up as a Wildcat QB. All three times the plays failed miserably.

And lastly…

I’m curious to find out how ASU responds to one of the most gut-wrenching losses in the last 30 years. This was a game that could have kept them in the Pac-12 South race for another week. Instead, they’re .500 and have lost back-to-back games.

In 2000, a 5-2 Sun Devil team coached by Bruce Snyder hosted 7th-ranked Oregon in Tempe. The Ducks won a wild, 56-55 double-overtime game. An ASU touchdown in the second extra period pulled them to within one. Snyder opted to go for the win and called a trick play on the two-point conversion. It failed.

I had never seen Snyder so distraught after a game. The Devils lost four of their next five, including an ugly performance against Boston College in the Aloha Bowl to finish 6-6. Snyder was fired.

I’m not saying Graham will be or should be fired after this game. But he had that same look and demeanor Snyder had 15 years ago.

And now, he faces the same challenge — to try and salvage a season that was presented with so much promise and expectation.

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