ASU Football: What changed for Devils in win over UCLA?


Coming out of their loss to the USC Trojans, the Arizona State Sun Devils looked like a team set to massively underperform in what was originally expected to be a strong year for them in the Pac-12 South. Even going back to before USC, their first three performances were underwhelming, as the offense couldn’t find a rhythm, the team constantly shot itself in the foot, and the defense was gashed by the run on a regular basis. Which left little hope heading into last weekend’s tilt with the UCLA Bruins. Yet, here we stand just a few days later, with a completely different outlook on what this season could bring for ASU football.

So just what was it that changed for these Sun Devils that they were able to go from the USC game, in which they were outplayed in every single facet and committed numerous mistakes, to this most recent contest against the Bruins, where they looked like they should have been the favorite over a top 10 team in NCAA Football?

For one, and perhaps above all, the defense was incredible. A group that has been suspect, first against the run, then victimized against Cody Kessler and the pass in the previous week, the defense immediately showed up and set a tone for the Devils on the road against the Bruins. They forced a pair of safeties, one that opened up the scoring and one late in the game. They held the UCLA offense to just 3-of-14 on third down. Above all, though, they made a true freshman quarterback look like a true freshman quarterback.

Josh Rosen had been given a lot of credit for how he played as a true freshman heading into the game, and it was praise that was well-deserved. Yet, the defense pressured him relentlessly, and he was clearly rattled by the constant blitzing in a way that a veteran quarterback like Cody Kessler was not in the previous week. They only finished the day with one sack, but they forced an intentional grounding call that opened up the scoring with that safety and held him to 22-of-40 passing.

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Perhaps even more impressive, the UCLA running game was held in check. A group headlined by Heisman candidate Paul Perkins was limited to just 62 yards on 28 carries, good for a 2.2 average. Perkins himself, a tremendous gamebreaker, was held to only 63 yards on the evening, almost half of which came on a 29-yard carry. Overall, it was a tremendous day for an embattled Sun Devils defense, and it was their intensity and play that really should take the bulk of the credit in the win.

But don’t overlook the offense in all of this, either.

Mike Bercovici continued his solid play that he’s quietly maintained throughout the year. We saw the offense open up for him and saw a few more attempts beyond the 10-or-so yards we’ve seen him often limited to here early on in the year. He was able to demonstrate his athleticism more as well, which was headlined by a 34-yard touchdown run that he had early in the third quarter.

Demario Richard was his normally steady self in the run game as well, with the real highlight of the night in the rushing game coming from Kalen Ballage, who was carried much of the way by his offensive line (and some help from Bercovici) on a 23-yard touchdown run to put this game on ice late in the fourth quarter.

So just what does it all boil down to? For one, the Devils didn’t commit the same types of mistakes that they had earlier in the year. A team plagued by turnovers only had one on the night, an interception from Bercovici. Fumbles that had been an issue in previous games, especially against USC, were virtually nonexistent. They dominated the offensive line of the Bruins and looked stellar on defense. And the playbook opened up and gave Mike Bercovici a bit more freedom. All in all, it was a tremendous, if completely unexpected performance from ASU football. Now expectations creep back up to where they were, as the Devils stand at 1-1 in conference play as they return home favorites against the Colorado Buffaloes this weekend.

Randy Holt is the managing editor for Devils in Detail. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.