Arizona State rewrote the record books in the 90th edition of the Duel in the Desert.
For all the wrong reasons.
For the first time in the history of the ASU football program, an opponent topped 500 rushing yards, an unheard of number even for a defense as bad as the Sun Devils have had this season.
Even worse, it was by an Arizona team that had not won a game in more than two months.
Three Wildcats had 100-yard rushing games in a 56-35 win, UA’s first in the Pac-12 and first overall since Sept. 17 that ended an eight-game losing streak.
Arizona State (5-7, 2-7) lost its sixth straight and its hold on the Territorial Cup.
Arizona (3-9, 1-8) did not attempt a pass in the second half, which tells you all you need to know.
Quarterback Brandon Dawkins went 3-of-8 for 77 yards and a touchdown but spearheaded a rushing attack with 183 yards and two scores. Samajie Grant (176) and Zach Green (126) also went over 100 rushing yards.
Grant scored three times, Green twice.
With the game tied at 7, the Wildcats scored 21 straight points to go up 28-7 midway through the second quarter.
Twice in the third quarter, the Sun Devils would close to within a touchdown, yet each time the defense failed to come up with a stop.
Statistically speaking, ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins had his best day, throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns. He also was intercepted and fumbled.
This marked the fourth straight year in which the home team won the rivalry game.
Denied a score due to a penalty on what would have been a pick-six a week ago, ASU’s Koron Crump once again found the end zone and this time it counted. Crump recovered a fumble and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, the first of his career, tying the game at 7 at the 7:49 mark. The play marked the Sun Devils first fumble recovery for a touchdown since the last Territorial Cup in Tucson. By the way, credit Jo Jo Wicker for causing the fumble, stripping the football from Dawkins.
It took almost the entire first half for the Sun Devils to score an offensive touchdown. On their final possession of the half, Wilkins led the team on a 13-play, season-long 94-yard drive in 4:20 to make it a 28-14 ballgame with 34 seconds left in the second quarter. On 2nd-and-3, Wilkins threw 21-yards over the middle, finding Tim White wide open in the end zone for White’s second receiving touchdown of the season. Earlier on the drive, the Sun Devils converted a 4th-and-3 at the UA 37.
Book-ending halftime with touchdowns helped close the gap for the Sun Devils. Aided by White’s 35-yard kickoff return, Wilkins, again, led the team on a nine-play, 65-yard drive in 3:35 to make it a 28-21 ballgame with 11:14 left in the third quarter. On 2nd-and-goal at the UA 2, Kalen Ballage, out of the Sparky formation, bounced the play to the outside right and scored his 14th rushing touchdown of the season, which is tied for the seventh-most in a single season in school history.
Just a horrible start for the Sun Devils, who found themselves down a touchdown only 72 seconds into the game. On 3rd-and-6, Dawkins found a lane up the middle and went 71 yards untouched for a score, giving Arizona the early lead, 7-0, at the 13:48 mark of the first quarter. Dawkins’ run marked the eighth 70-plus yard play and 16th 50-plus yard scoring play allowed by the Sun Devils defense this season.
Missed tackles. Blown coverage. The Sun Devils defense got exposed twice for touchdowns in the second quarter. First, Marcus Ball and D.J. Calhoun failed to tackle Dawkins, who rushed 10 yards for a touchdown. Then on the Wildcats’ next possession, Dawkins passed 64 yards to Nate Phillips, who was wide open for a touchdown. It marked the 17th 50-plus yard scoring play allowed by the Sun Devils this season.
Twice in the first half, Wilkins lost the football. He was picked off by DaVonte Neal—the pass was intended for White—and then fumbled. The former marked his ninth interception, while the latter appeared to just slip out of his hand while he was dancing around the pocket trying to escape pressure. Both turnovers resulted in points for the Wildcats: Dawkins with a 10-yard run and Green with a one-yard run, which made it 28-7.
Not once did the Wildcats attempt a pass in the third quarter. They relied on their ground game, which carved up the Sun Devils for 165 yards, including a pair of touchdown runs by Grant (nine yards) and Green (one yard); the latter of which made it 42-28 at the 5:41 mark of the quarter. Grant and Green each had 50-plus yard runs in the period. Through three quarters, the Wildcats had 351 rushing yards.
And the Wildcats just kept on running in the fourth quarter. And once again, they did not attempt a pass in the period. Grant scored twice more, going two yards and 63 yards; the latter of which made it 56-35 at the 7:45 mark of the quarter. It marked the 18th 50-plus yard scoring play allowed by the Sun Devils this season. And yes, the third such play of the game. For the quarter, the Wildcats had 160 rushing yards.
STAT OF THE GAME
511: The Wildcats’ final rushing total, which included 165 and 160 yards gained in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
HE SAID IT
“We just didn’t show up to play defensively. Didn’t play a lick defensively. It’s embarrassing. Embarrassed our program. Obviously it’s on me,” head coach Todd Graham said.
– Wideout Fred Gammage finished with a career-high 12 catches, becoming the first Sun Devil receiver with double-digit receptions since 2014.
– ASU receiver N’Keal Harry finished with nine catches, setting a new freshman receptions record with 59, surpassing Zach Miller’s 2004 mark of 56.
– Sun Devil safety Armand Perry was ejected from the game after officials called a flagrant personal foul penalty at the 7:12 mark of the second quarter.
– ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez’s 53-yard first-quarter missed field goal was only his second miss of the season, snapping a run of 17 straight makes.
– This marked the first time the Sun Devils and Wildcats each entered the Duel in the Desert with losing records since the 2003 season.
It’s going to be a long offseason for the Sun Devils — or not.
Currently, ASU is not bowl-bound having fallen one win short of eligibility. The last time that happened was 2010.
However, ASU still may receive an invitation — that is if there are not enough six-win teams to fill the 41 different bowl games.
A year ago, three five-win teams went to bowl games: Minnesota, Nebraska and San Jose State. They were selected based on their academic standing.
A bowl game would be important on two fronts: 1) allow the seniors to wear the Sun Devil uniform one more time and 2) give the underclassmen, especially those expected to be key contributors in 2017, an additional 15 practices.
If none of that happens, then it’s a wait until March and the start of spring football.