You’d think a 17-point lead and scoring points on five of six possessions in the second half would be enough to win a football game.
You’d be wrong.
Jared Goff threw for a career-high 542 yards and five touchdowns as the California Golden Bears erased a 27-10 halftime deficit for a 48-46 win at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley Saturday night.
Matt Anderson kicked a 26-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bears the win and dropped the Sun Devils’ record to 6-6 on the year.
ASU’s problem was red-zone efficiency in the second half. Four times, drives stalled inside the Cal 20-yard line. Four times, they settled for Zane Gonzalez field goals. But while ASU was putting up three points at a time, Cal was scoring touchdowns. The Bears got six points on five straight second-half possessions and rolled up 458 yards of offense after halftime.
Cal got the first points of the second half when Tre Watson capped a 6-play, 94-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. ASU’s next possession stalled at the Golden Bears’ 6-yard line. Gonzalez connected from 24 yards to make it 30-17, Arizona State.
Goff hit Bryce Treggs on a 49-yard pass play on Cal’s next offensive turn — that play set up a touchdown pass to Chad Hansen from 16 yards out that drew the Bears even closer at 30-24.
ASU used chunk plays — a 22-yard run by Demario Richard and a 25-yard pass from Mike Bercovici to Raymond Epps to get all the way down to the Cal 13-yard line. Again the Sun Devils stalled and settled for a Gonzalez field goal — this one from 31 yards out — to make it 33-24.
But there was no stopping Cal on this night. Goff engineered another 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a 9-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Harris. The Devils’ lead was down to two points at 33-31 as the fourth quarter was ready to begin.
The Sun Devils got another field goal from Gonzalez, a 34-yarder, with 9:55 left in the contest to stretch the tenuous lead to five points at 36-31. Unfazed, Cal bounced right back with Goff finding Khalfani Muhammad out of the backfield. Muhammad outraced defenders down the sideline for a 58-yard score that gave Cal their first lead of the game at 37-36 after a two-point conversion attempt was thwarted by rare pressure on Goff.
ASU drove down to the Cal 4-yard line on its next possession, but second- and third-down throws to Epps and Jalen Harvey fell incomplete. Another Gonzalez field goal — his sixth — put the Devils up 39-37 with 7:43 left.
Once again, Cal hit for a big play — Goff to Darius Powe for a 49-yard touchdown. This time, the two-point conversion attempt was good to give the Bears a 45-39 lead.
The Sun Devils finally broke their string of red zone failures in the fourth when Bercovici hit Epps on a 4-yard scoring strike that put them up 46-45 with 2:35 left. The defense couldn’t hold.
Bercovici threw for 395 yards and four touchdowns in the loss for ASU, who had 586 yards in the game.
• Zane Gonzalez set a new ASU record with six field goals. It wasn’t his fault the offense couldn’t produce in the red zone. The junior kicker did what he was asked to do.
• The Bercovici-to-Devin Lucien combination was unstoppable in the first half. Lucien finished with 8 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the game.
• The defense. ASU blitzed with its normal frequency, but didn’t get enough pressure on Goff. The talented quarterback picked the defense apart, hitting for big play after big play. Cal had five passing plays of 49 yards or more.
• On Cal’s game-winning field goal drive, Goff faced a 1st-and-10 from his own 42-yard line. ASU got pressure on the quarterback with a four-man rush, but both Tashon Smallwood and Salamo Fiso missed opportunities to sack him for a big loss. Goff calmly completed a pass to Hansen for a 17-yard gain. Six plays later, Anderson kicked the deciding field goal.
He Said It:
“Absolutely miserable second half. You don’t have a chance to win a game when you play like that.” — ASU head coach Todd Graham on his defense’s performance.
The Sun Devils will await their postseason fate. ASU, at 6-6 is bowl eligible for the fifth season in a row — the first time that has happened in program history.
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