As we were walking to our cars after a thrilling triple overtime game at Sun Devil Stadium, my radio partner Dave Burns said, “This is one game you will remember for a long time. You will be glad you were at this one.”
No doubt I will remember this one but unfortunately I will remember this one for more of the negatives than the positives. Yes, Arizona State rolled up 742 yards off offense in a 61-55 defeat. But when you lose it’s not the touchdowns you scored, but the ones you gave up and the plays you missed that stick in your mind.
Here are the plays that in my mind made the difference in a game in which momentum swung possession by possession.
1) Clock management at the end of the first half.
Arizona State got the ball back at their own 38 yard line with 1:28 left and trailing 17-14. Mike Bercovici on the first play hit Devin Lucien for a 22-yard gain to the Oregon 40. After Berco took a sack for a loss of four yards the Devils called timeout with 1:01 remaining. Tough to lose the timeout there as it was the Devils’ final one, but OK it happened. Still had a minute left to get in field goal range. But from that point ASU only ran two plays, an incomplete pass to Lucien and a eight-yard gain on a pass to Demario Richard. There was 34 seconds left on the clock after the pass to Richard and ASU was facing a 4th and 6 from the Duck 36. There seemed to be confusion as to whether they would go for it or kick a field goal. The Devils should have gone for it but instead rushed Zane Gonzalez onto the field and rushed a 54-yard field goal attempt wide right as the game clock hit seven seconds renaming. The Devils should have attempted a pass play of no less than six yards to get the first down, stop the clock momentarily and allow Gonzalez to 1) kick a shorter field goal and 2) not be rushed on the kick.
2) Special teams blunder
Arizona State had just scored a touchdown to go up 31-20 and special teams came back to bite them in the ass. On the ensuing kickoff Charles Nelson took it back 100 yards for the touchdown to bring Oregon within 31-27. Nelson was basically untouched on the play and with ASU up by two scores at that point it was a momentum-changing play for the Ducks.
3) Bercovici’s first interception.
Look, Berco played a good game. He really did. But he had two crucial interceptions and almost had a third on a call that was overturned. Now blaming the QB for the interceptions is not always the right call but let’s break this down. Arizona State is up 41-34 late in the game and the Devils defense had just forced two very impressive three and outs on the Ducks. Granted the last one was a sure touchdown dropped by a wide open Carrington but it was still a three and out. The Devils get the ball at their own 25 yard line with 6:45 left and if they kill a little clock and kick a field goal this game is over. The Devils get to the Ducks 48 yard line and are facing a first down. They are pouring Oregon on the ground all day. Now they are close to field goal range and time is on their side. But Berco believes he has Oregon offsides and attempts to make a big play. Instead the pass is intercepted by Tyree Robinson and returned 19 yards with 5:02 remaining, which set up Oregon’s game-tying touchdown drive. 1) Not smart play-calling there. Run the damn ball, use more clock but most importantly, play it safe. Even if you don’t get in field goal range use the clock pin them deep on the punt and make them go the length of the field. Don’t make a crucial mistake that gives them a short field from their own 40-yard line. Instead Berco makes a horrible throw and Oregon takes advantage.
4) Berco’s second interception.
Now this one can be debated until the cows come home. But ASU is at the Oregon three yard line down by six in the third overtime and poised to either win the game or send it to a 4th OT. Oregon is gassed. They are tired. They haven’t stopped the run all day. Demario Richard has 136 yards on 19 carries averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Kalen Ballage has 128 yards on 12 carries averaging 10.6 yards per carry. You have it first and goal at the three yard line and its pretty obvious that you hand the ball off and pound them into submission. You could have told Oregon the running play you were running and they still wouldn’t have been able to stop it. But what does ASU do from the three yard line? They throw two passes. Were they out of their damn mind? The first pass is incomplete, the second is intercepted. Now let’s break down the second pass, the one picked off when Arrion Springs jumped the slant route of Tim White. Blame is equal on three parts for this one 1) Play call was just dumb at this point we all can agree you run the ball not do a run/pass option. 2) White quit on the play, got outmuscled for position and I believe he thought that Berco had handed the ball off. 3) Berco’s throw is not the right throw for a slant pattern in the end zone. The ball was high. Any slant route needs to be on the receivers body or low so it ends up in the dirt. You don’t throw a high pass there and risk it being tipped or knocked down. You also never lead your receiver on that play. The ball has to be on the body or don’t throw it. So lots and lots of blame on that one.
So yes I will remember I was at that thrilling game. But unfortunately this is what I take out of it.