ASU football falls to UCLA in a game of missed opportunities, penalties

Dec 6, 2020, 1:36 AM | Updated: 11:10 am
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) is sacked by UCLA defensive back Mo Osling III (7) dur...

Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) is sacked by UCLA defensive back Mo Osling III (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona State hadn’t played a football game in almost a month coming into Saturday. It showed.

ASU fell 25-18 against UCLA after a slow start, untimely turnovers and far too many penalties and dropped its record to 0-2 in what may be a three-game season.

“I think we were rusty as a football team and I had a sense that would happen,” said head coach Herm Edwards.

It was a game of missed opportunities.

In the first quarter, ASU drove the ball to UCLA’s 15-yard line. Then Jayden Daniels got sacked. On the next play he got sacked again. Then Cristian Zendajas missed a field goal. That was the team’s best drive of the half, and it ended without a point.

On the first play of the next drive, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson went deep. It was a duck, coming right down into the hands of DeAndre Pierce – until it wasn’t. Delon Hurt flew in and snatched it out of the air, turning what looked like a sure ASU interception into a 38-yard UCLA gain. Hurt scored a touchdown later that drive.

In the waning moments of the second quarter, when ASU was still scoreless, Johnny Wilson stopped running on a deep route. It may have been miscommunication, maybe he lost the ball in the air, but either way, the pass landed harmlessly in the end zone. ASU settled for a 49-yard field goal off the leg of Jack Luckhurst to go into the half down 17-3 instead of 17-0.

“I told them earlier when the game started, you’re going to have to get into game-speed mode now because the game will be real fast for you in the first quarter,” Edwards said. “And I thought you saw that a little bit.”

In the third quarter, ASU botched a snap at the one-yard line. The Sun Devils defense came through, forcing an intentional grounding in the end zone that resulted in a safety, but on the next drive, Daniels threw deep into double coverage and was picked off in the end zone. Momentum was stalled on a game with a deficit that had been shrunk from two possessions to five points, 17-12.

“The turnovers and the penalties,” Edwards said. “Those are the things that really get you in the end.”

Yes, Coach. The penalties. Those killed ASU as much as anything.

A Johnny Wilson touchdown reception in the third quarter was called back due to an ineligible receiver downfield, though ASU eventually scored on that drive. There was a 39-yard Andre Johnson touchdown called back later that quarter, and that drive instead ended with the fumble at the goal line. ASU’s successful two-point conversion was canceled out due to an illegal formation, and in the fourth quarter, there was another ineligible receiver penalty that ruined a big gain on the Sun Devils’ final drive. In total, ASU committed 12 penalties.

While Edwards said he attributed the excessive fouls to the month without a game, he was somewhat flummoxed by just how many times ASU was penalized for having an illegal receiver downfield.

“I don’t know. Guys leaving or blocking their guy and went too far. If Jayden runs around a little bit then all of a sudden the play gets extended and it looks like that,” Edwards said. “There were numerous of those calls, and what can you say. It’s a foul.”

In that fourth quarter, ASU had taken the 18-16 lead, but now the defense missed its opportunity to put the game away.

The defense had been excellent in the first four drives of the second half. UCLA punted three times and was called for the safety on the other. Tyler Johnson finished with three sacks, the most for any Sun Devil since Koron Crump in 2016. If ASU had held on and won, it would have been because of the defense.

But on this final UCLA possession, the Bruins ran an 11-play, 75-yard drive in 3:17 that only ended because ASU forced running back Demetric Felton into the end zone to make sure UCLA wouldn’t run down the clock and hit the chip shot to win the game.

The Bruins converted the two-point conversion, giving the Sun Devils the ball with just over a minute left.

ASU had one more opportunity created by Daniels’ legs. The quarterback somehow escaped a sack and bounced off an offensive lineman before throwing deep over the middle to a receiver who drew a pass interference – however, ASU got hit with that ineligible receiver penalty. The down was replayed and Daniels got sacked. His final Hail Mary was batted away.

That was it. The Sun Devils got their opportunities but could not pull through.

Whether it was turnovers or penalties, they could not muster enough offense to complete the comeback. They blew the fourth-quarter lead for the second game in a row.

“The last two games haven’t been a lot of fun. We had opportunities and we just didn’t do it,” Edwards said. “But I’m proud of the kids’ effort, I really am, to be off that long, and our coaching staff and everybody holding this thing together.”

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ASU football falls to UCLA in a game of missed opportunities, penalties