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October 27, 2012On a day when Arizona State fell back on old shortcomings reminiscent of years past, salvation appeared for a brief moment as D.J. Foster fought through the late afternoon shadows and landed in the endzone drenched in sunlight to give his team a lead late in the fourth quarter.
There was only one problem, however, with the potential storybook ending for the Sun Devils: 93 seconds remained on the clock.
On the ensuing drive, ASU (5-3, 3-2) allowed UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) to march 60 yards in the final minute and a half, setting up a game-winning 33 yard field as time expired Saturday to fall for the second consecutive week at home, 45-43, in front of 55,672 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
"You have to stop them, they drove the ball down and it came down to one play today," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "All you have to do is hold them. We just didn't show up and play defensively today. You can't win football games playing defense like that."
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils trailed by nine points with nine minutes left but a field goal and the aforementioned touchdown grab by Foster from sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly lifted ASU to its first advantage in the second half.
"We battled as a team. I was proud of the guys," Graham said. "We played good enough offensively today to win. I thought our offense put us in a position to win, and we didn't get it done defensively. It came down to one drive and play, and we didn't play very well."
More than the final possession of the game Saturday, the ASU defense struggled throughout the day. Playing without junior defensive linemen Will Sutton for the entire game and Junior Onyeali for the majority of the game, the Sun Devil squad that lived in its opponents' back field early in the season failed to cause the disruption the team became accustomed to. The lack of pressure then trickled down to the secondary, which came in ranked No. 1 in the country in pass defense.
On the day, the Bruins amassed 486 total yards including 212 on the ground and 274 through the air.
Furthermore, three of the UCLA's six touchdowns came from 15 yards out or more.
"We made some critical errors on defense that we hadn't been doing all year," ASU junior cornerback Osahon Irabor said. "It really cost us at the end. One or two big plays will catch up to you at the end of the game. Giving up the big plays and touchdowns that we hadn't been giving up all year put us in that tough situation at the end of the game."
The Sun Devils were lining up against an offense run by former ASU offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, but the team thought UCLA threw in some plays to keep its familiarity of the schemes off-balance.
"I feel like they put a lot of wrinkles in," ASU senior cornerback Deveron Carr said. "We practiced certain things that they did not run at all and it put us in an adverse situation. At the same time I feel like we work hard and we should be able to handle that."
UCLA freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, a graduate of Chandler High School, took advantage of the Sun Devil miscues, finishing his homecoming performance 19-for-29 for 274 yards with four touchdowns.
"He played very well," ASU senior linebacker Brandon Magee said. "He was moving a lot in the pockets, but we just can't allow him to scramble on the outside and step up and throw those extra yards and make plays with his feet. He was making some good plays out there and I have to respect that."
Offensively the Sun Devils played better than a week ago, but like the other side of the ball, costly mental mistakes eventually sunk the team.
A holding by senior right tackle Brice Schwab negated a touchdown and an ill-advised interception from Kelly out of his own endzone near halftime directly resulted in seven points for the Bruins.
In the end, ASU outgained UCLA by 49 yards, running 16 more plays than the Bruins but had to settle for field goals three times in its opponent's territory.
"We went into the red zone a couple times, put up three points, and went three and out or four and out," Kelly said. "I have to do a better job.
Just as they did last week against Oregon, the Sun Devils took advantage of an early turnover to take a quick lead in the first quarter. After the Bruins forced an ASU punt on its first drive, senior punter Josh Hubner launched a booming kick into the sun and UCLA muffed the punt, resulting in terrific field position.
Two plays later, Kelly hit senior wide out Kevin Ozier in the endzone for a seven yard score to take a 7-0 lead. The Sun Devils extended their advantage four minutes later when junior running back Marion Grice took the ball in from two yards out for a touchdown.
"We started out getting the tempo going," Kelly said. "That was a big key for us, to establish the run game to get that tempo going."
But before the first quarter would end, the Bruins tied the game at 14 with two quick scores sandwiched between an unproductive ASU possession.
After a junior kicker Jon Mora field goal, his first of three on the day, gave the Sun Devils the lead back, disaster struck before halftime when instead of running the clock down, Kelly threw out of the endzone and UCLA intercepted it at the doorstep. One player later the Bruins took their first lead of the day on a five yard touchdown run.
"That was a huge, huge play," Graham said. "Of course I was disappointed. I'm always disappointed when things don't work out and I'm happy when they do. It was just being aggressive."
Kelly, who probably should've taken the safety instead of making the throw, said he didn't see the defensive player coming.
"The guy became free, I was trying to throw it at my running backs feet, but the guy hit me," he said. "So I was trying to throw him off, but I couldn't pull it down."
On the heels of two straight demoralizing losses, the road for ASU doesn't get any easier. The Sun Devils face back-to-back road tests against ranked teams when they travel to Oregon State and Southern California.
Even though it's beginning to look like the season could spiral out of control like it did a year ago, the team believes it's in a better position now to handle the adversity.
"Make any comparison you want to, we can't pay attention to what people say on the outside," Magee said. "We have a tough game against Oregon State coming up and we are focused on that now. Then we play USC, Washington State and Arizona and we have to run the table and really step it up the next few weeks. We are a completely different team. We never stop battling, even in the fourth quarter and third quarter, we were behind and came back and we still battled throughout the whole game."