TEMPE, Ariz. — Hours before kickoff, somebody scrawled “UCLA” on the black pitchfork midfield logo at Sun Devil Stadium.
Talk about a harbinger of things to come.
The 11th-ranked Bruins played by far their best game of the season and took apart the 15th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils 62-27 in Tempe Thursday.
Here are six things that stood out from UCLA’s dominating win:
When it rains, it pours – ASU was playing pretty well — actually leading 17-6. At the time, their young defense was tackling well.
That went to hell in a hand basket quickly.
On the third play of their next possession, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley hit Eldridge Massington on a very innocuous-looking 4-yard slant pass. ASU’s Salamo Fiso missed a tackle. Then, defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry unloaded a huge hit — on his own teammate, Demarious Randall, knocking them both out of the play. Safety Jordan Simone couldn’t wrap up either, and Massington was gone. The 80-yard touchdown was the first step in a total momentum shift over the next 15 minutes of football.
“Tackling was atrocious,” head coach Todd Graham said three times in the first few moments of his press conference.
That was an understatement.
The big(gest) play – Even though UCLA had scored 14 unanswered points, Bercovici had the Sun Devils on the move right before halftime. ASU had a 1st-and-10 at the UCLA 15-yard line, but they were out of timeouts as all three were used on defense.
On first down, Bercovici attempted a quarterback draw which was snuffed by Kenny Clark for a loss of two yards. With the clock still ticking, Bercovici had no choice but to spike the ball with :19 left in the half. There was certainly time for another throw to the end zone before attempting a field goal, and the Sun Devils did just that.
Bercovici had Cameron Smith wide open in the end zone, but didn’t put any air underneath the ball and Ishmael Adams stepped in the passing lane, picked it off and raced 95 yards for a touchdown.
“Absolutely unacceptable on my behalf –100 percent on me,” Bercovici said. “I’ve got to understand the situation. We have three points there. We got a great field goal kicker. We can’t put the ball in jeopardy. It’s a learning experience. I’ll never do it again.”
Where’s D.J.? – D.J. Foster was arguably the best offensive player in the conference through the first three weeks of the season, but was a complete non-factor against UCLA.
The junior from Scottsdale got only 14 touches on the night with nine coming in the running game. He gained a season-low 30 yards on the ground after averaging 170 per contest prior to Thursday night.
Ishmael Adams, public enemy #1 – Last year in Pasadena, Adams torched ASU’s special teams in the return game. He averaged 37 yards per kick return, including a 69-yarder. He returned a punt 49 yards.
The junior picked up right where he left off Thursday. In addition to his enormous interception return for a touchdown, Adams had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
In two career games against the Sun Devils, Adams is averaging 38.6 yards per kick return.
Those helmets, look away! – ASU made football fashion news last season when they unveiled their alternate flame helmets in time for the Notre Dame game in Arlington, Tex. They weren’t well-received by ASU’s fan base, and the Devils lost to the Irish while wearing them.
Arizona State busted them out again Thursday night during another nationally-televised game. Same reaction.
Sorry if I'm late to the party but why is ASU wearing a bowling ball as a helmet?
— Robert Shiekh (@Shiekhers) September 26, 2014
Asu also lost to Texas tech for the worst helmet of the night..
— Liam Blutman (@UCLAFAN2727) September 26, 2014
Old grandmas going crazy over the ASU helmet design cuz it matches the bowling balls they used in the 80s
— Pogi Bryant (@joshyyAYY) September 26, 2014
Those ASU lids look like the helmet truck collided with the road-striping truck
— Zac (@Zac_FF) September 26, 2014
ASU's helmets look like a cat puked on an arena league helmet.
— GYERO_Lurker (@GYERO_Lurker) September 26, 2014
Of course there’s no correlation between headgear and performance (at least we don’t think so), but these helmets are just ugly. Any one of ASU’s pitchfork helmets could qualify among the best-looking in all of college football, so why deviate?
Berco’s pretty good – Lost in the analysis of this game is what Mike Bercovici did in his first start as a collegian.
The junior set new school records for completions and attempts, going 42-of-68 for 488 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw two picks and fumbled once.
But all that we heard about Bercovici’s arm was accurate — he can really sling the football. The experience is lacking, however.
“I think Mike did some great things but you he cannot make turnovers. That was the story of the night,” Graham said.
Seeing Taylor Kelly patrolling the ASU sideline still in a walking boot with a crutch was a good sign that Bercovici will be the starter next week at USC. While it’s not ideal, he proved to be a competent Pac-12 quarterback Thursday night.
If the defense doesn’t improve, it won’t matter who is quarterbacking the Sun Devils though.
Silver linings – There were actually a couple of bright spots in an otherwise dark night for the Sun Devils.
First was the play of wide receiver Cameron Smith. Arizona State had been waiting for someone in its receiving corps to step up and complement Jaelen Strong and Smith did that Thursday. The sophomore had eight catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. He also was very effective as an edge blocker early in the game on quick outs and bubble screens.
The Sun Devils are absolutely loaded at running back. Foster didn’t do much against UCLA, but he’s proven how good he is. Senior Deantre Lewis showed good burst on nine carries, and averaged 5.1 yards per pop. Freshmen Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage both showed explosiveness during the game as well.