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Oregon game had it all — except an ASU win

Oregon's Royce Freeman (21) gets past the Arizona State defense for a 64-yard touchdown run 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. — If entertainment was your goal on Thursday night, you found it at Sun Devil Stadium. If you wanted an Arizona State victory over Oregon for the first time since the Dirk Koetter era, however, you came up just short.

The Ducks (5-3) rallied from three separate deficits to post a 61-55 triple-overtime victory, their ninth consecutive victory over ASU (4-4), which marks their longest winning streak against the Sun Devils in school history.

This game had it all.

There was controversy when Ducks receiver Bralon Addison appeared to step out of bounds on his game-winning touchdown catch in triple overtime, and again when Sun Devils receiver Tim White appeared to get held on the Ducks’ game-sealing interception.

There were countless blown calls by the Pac-12’s notoriously inconsistent officials — so many that both sides had a litany of legitimate gripes.

There were head-scratching play calls by both teams, there were big plays galore, there were blown opportunities like Zane Gonzalez’s three missed fields and there was offense; lots of offense.

ASU’s 742 yards were one short of the Sun Devils’ conference high set against Stanford in 1981, and the third highest total in program history. The Sun Devils had two backs over 100 yards rushing — Demario Richard (135), Kalen Ballage (127) — for the first time since the 2013 Holiday Bowl, and quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for a season-high 398 yards and five touchdowns.

“I’ll tell you one thing, I can’t fault anything that the offense did — 742 yards,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “I’m not going to second guess anything they did because they deserved to win.”

Given the Sun Devils’ yardage and success on the ground, Graham’s expectation was reasonable, but the Devils didn’t do themselves any favors with 10 penalties (nine accepted), Gonzalez’s misses and a rash of poor tackling that had ASU’s coach shaking his head.

“A lot of the things were really self-inflicted, defensively,” Graham said. “Lots of regrets in that game.”

The biggest for Graham, and the one he wore plainly on his face as he addressed the media, was the reality that this team he anointed as the best in his four seasons has fallen to .500, marking the first ASU has been at the break-even mark since Graham’s first season.

ASU clearly won’t be going to the College Football Playoff, ASU clearly won’t be winning the Pac-12 South and the Sun Devils must worry about something once unthinkable – the thought of a losing record.

ASU heads to Pullman next weekend for a matchup with vastly improved Washington State. The Cougars already beat these Ducks in Eugene and let’s be frank: None of the Sun Devils’ remaining opponents offers the confidence of victory.

We suggested after the loss to USC that for the first time in his tenure, it’s fair to wonder if Graham’s program has hit a plateau. That reality is plain for all to see. The challenge for ASU’s coach now is to make sure his team doesn’t fall clean off the cliff.

“Our attitude doesn’t change,” Bercovici said. “We have a football team composed by 120 guys that play with passion, character, discipline, toughness; everything that our head coach exemplifies.

“We have four more games to go out and dominate, and prove to the country that we are the type of team that we started out the season as. Wins and losses don’t define the type of team that we have.”

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