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September 14, 2008The ASU football team fell into the trap.
All week long, the Sun Devils said they were not looking ahead to their looming match up with Georgia, that they were solely focused on UNLV.
But when Saturday night's game ended, and the Rebels had upset ASU 23-20 in overtime, the Sun Devils were left in shock.
"I'm surprised," Coach Dennis Erickson said. "I didn't think we were going to lose this football game, but we did. And now you have to deal with it.
"Thinking and reality are two different things and the reality is we got beat. We're sitting at 2-1 with the No. 2 team in the country coming in."
Defensive end Dexter Davis left the field with a towel covering his head. Offensive tackle Shawn Lauvao spiked his helmet before he departed for the locker room.
The embarrassment and frustration was clear on every player's face.
"No disrespect to them, but they're not on our level," safety Troy Nolan said. "They won the game and I give them all the credit, but we let them hang around. We let them hang around in the game and look what happened, they beat us."
The final blow came when a 35-yard field goal attempt from Thomas Weber was blocked by Rebels defensive lineman Malo Taumua in overtime.
UNLV kicker Kyle Watson made a field goal in the Rebels' overtime possession to give them the lead.
"It was blocked from the middle and I don't know why," Erickson said. "We've never had problems like that, obviously. Give them credit, they blocked it. Obviously we probably made a mistake in there, I'm just not sure what."
Although the players and coaches said the loss was not a result of overlooking UNLV, ASU didn't seem to have its usual intensity all night.
The offensive line that had garnered so much praise in the first two weeks allowed lots of pressure to get to quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
The defense allowed UNLV to have its way in the second half - 255 of the Rebels' 345 yards came after halftime.
And Carpenter did not perform on the same level he has been all season. While the senior quarterback did throw for 242 yards and two touchdowns, he didn't find open receivers several times in critical situations and threw a costly interception just before halftime.
The Sun Devils said they were prepared, but that they just did not play well when it mattered.
"We just didn't execute in the game," Carpenter said. "We didn't score and we turned the ball over. We didn't do well in all three aspects of the game and when you don't, you're going to lose."
And linebacker Mike Nixon agreed with Carpenter. He said ASU did not execute well, and that UNLV made the big plays all night.
"It just came down to them making the plays when they needed to and us not being able to," said Nixon, who led ASU with 13 tackles. "We had them in third downs all night and to their credit, they kept making big plays and keeping drives alive."
The Rebels converted 4-of-10 third down conversions in the second half.
But on the biggest drive of the game, UNLV's final possession of regulation, ASU did stop the Rebels on their only third down attempt. At that point however, it was four-down territory and once again UNLV converted when it really mattered.
UNLV got the ball on its own 26 yard line trailing by seven with 3:03 to go, and marched 74 yards and scored with 18 seconds remaining.
The touchdown came courtesy of an amazing one-handed catch by true freshman Phillip Payne. UNLV sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton threw the 8-yard pass.
After that, ASU had its chances in overtime.
The Sun Devils nearly came up with an interception on a ball that was tipped by two ASU players, but it ended up in the hands of UNLV wide receiver Ryan Wolfe at the 2-yard line.
After UNLV made a field goal ASU took the ball but never got anything rolling.
Running back Dimitri Nance rushed the ball twice for a combined seven yards, then Carpenter threw the ball away after he rolled out of the pocket and couldn't find an open receiver.
Next came the blocked kick.
"After that game nothing really shocked me," Nixon said of the blocked kick. "It was just, what's going to happen next? And when it happened you just kind of shake your head."
The game began with ASU's red zone woes reappearing.
On their first possession, the Sun Devils easily marched 77 yards down the field before being stopped at the 3-yard line and settling for a field goal.
But UNLV countered with a field goal of its own midway through the second quarter to tie the game up.
The next score was wide receiver Chris McGaha's first touchdown of the season. McGaha beat two defenders and made a leaping catch to haul in the 22-yard pass from Carpenter.
But once again, UNLV tied it up.
Following Carpenter's interception inside the ASU 20-yard line, Clayton threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Payne. Payne beat cornerback Omar Bolden on the play.
But Weber hit a 49-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give ASU a 13-10 lead going into the break.
The Sun Devils put up the first points of the second half too when Carpenter threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Williams early in the third quarter.
At that point, ASU seemed to be in control, but then the UNLV rushing attack took over.
Running back Frank Summers ran all over ASU late in the game. He finished with 103 rushing yards.
"He's a little bowling ball back there," Nixon said of Summers. "In the second half they just started pounding him away.
"He ran hard all night and to his credit, put them in a position to win."
Watson made a 20-yard field goal with 9:16 remaining to bring the game within a touchdown.
ASU had a chance in the fourth quarter to put the game away, but could not keep the chains moving. After generating just one first down, the Sun Devils were forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.
In the fourth quarter, ASU had possession of the ball for just 3:43.
For the Sun Devils, the top rusher was Nance who totaled 92 yards on 20 carries.
The top receiver was Williams with three receptions for 115 yards to go along with his score.