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Refs, luck, skill? Arizona State finds way to beat Wisconsin

TEMPE, Ariz. — Todd Graham has won 10 games as the head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Of those 10, nine have been way prettier than the one his team earned Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

But none were as big. Or as crazy.

The Sun Devils survived their own mistakes — both on the field and from the sidelines — to knock off No. 20 Wisconsin 32-30, giving ASU a great start to what will be a very daunting part of its schedule.

Of course, it took some help from the refs, but whether the officials lost control of the game’s final seconds or not (and they did), the only thing that matters is the Sun Devils are 2-0, and likely heading for a top-25 ranking.

“We didn’t play very good and still won,” Graham said after the madness that was this game.

Indeed, the Devils didn’t play well at all.

Dropped passes were an issue for most of the night, a bad snap on a punt led to a Wisconsin touchdown, Taylor Kelly threw an interception and the team left a few points on the field with some foolish aggressive play-calling.

Yet, through it all they somehow got a win, and while one could say they didn’t necessarily deserve it, they in no way should be asked to give it back.

Especially because Wisconsin didn’t really deserve this one, either.

Shoddy quarterback play from Joel Stave along with some very questionable play calling by Gary Anderson left the defending Big Ten champs tripping over themselves for much of the night. Sure, running back Melvin Gordon torched the Devils for 196 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries, but outside of him the Badgers really didn’t get much going offensively.

Up for the entire third quarter, Wisconsin had ample opportunity to put some distance between it and Arizona State, but continually failed to do so. It was a performance unbecoming of a top-20 team, and one that certainly deserved to have an ‘L’ be the result.

But, without a classic case of Pac-12 refs being Pac-12 refs, it might have been them and not the Sun Devils who escaped with a win. Then again, on the same drive that ended with the botched final play, it appeared the officials missed a call that ultimately benefited the Badgers. None of it mattered.

“Proud of our guys, proud of how they played, really proud to be a Sun Devil,” Graham said.

The difference between an emotional victory and an agonizing defeat?

This one will go down as the first signature win in the Graham era, but will not be the last chance for one. Up next is a road trip to Stanford, which will be followed by a home game against USC and a trip to Texas to take on Notre Dame.

Combined with Wisconsin, this is a four-game stretch that will likely determine whether or not this becomes a special season rather than simply a good one.

As for Saturday, the Devils were really neither special nor good. But they were, when the dust settled, winners.

As the cliché goes, it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good.

“Luck was on our side, I’ll take it,” safety Osahon Irabor said. “We’ll take it any way we can get it.

“Sloppy, ugly, beautiful — it doesn’t matter. A win’s a win, 2-0, on to the next one.”