Arizona State overtakes No. 20 UCLA to take top spot in the South

LOS ANGELES — The final seconds passed at the Rose Bowl and the Arizona State Sun Devils headed for their exit, a gathering of their fans cheering loudly above the tunnel through which they exited.

Cornerback Chase Lucas came forward and waved to a spectator. Linebacker Darien Butler hit another. Quarterback Jayden Daniels exchanged a few words with others.

The Sun Devils were indeed in a celebratory mood after outscoring the No. 20 Bruins 42-23, with a resilient defense that earned a second-half shutout. The win propels coach Herm Edwards’ side into sole possession of first place, although there are still plenty of games to play.

ASU had lost the past two meetings with the Bruins, including the 2019 Rose Bowl contest in which the Sun Devils trailed at halftime 28-7 and never recovered. This game has not been forgotten.

Like two years ago, the Sun Devils had a large number of players from Southern California and took the opportunity to show off in front of friends and family. This time, the result was more to their liking.

“Last time we showed up here it wasn’t a good result for us,” Edwards said. “I thought our emotions had gotten the better of us. We’ve been talking about it all week, trying to stay calm, go home and not get swayed. Treat it like a business trip. I think the guys knew about it.”

The Sun Devils (4-1, 2-0) didn’t play a perfect game, but their performance was light years better than they’ve managed so far, especially given the opponent and the game on the road.

Since the end of the 2020 season, Edwards and offensive coordinator Zak Hill have both talked about getting more explosive plays from the passing game. Well, they have plenty.

October 2, 2021;  Pasadena, California, USA;  Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (19) celebrates with LV wide receiver Bunkley-Shelton (6) and quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) scoring a touchdown against the Arizona Bruins UCLA during the first half at the Rose Bowl.

ASU passed for 458 total yards with Daniels throwing for a season-high 286 yards. He was effective 13 for 18, highlighted by long drives for 65 and 54 yards to Ricky Pearsall, who finished with four catches for 132 yards on the night.

UCLA’s defense ranked fifth in the nation against the rush, allowing just 63 yards per game, but its secondary had been suspect and the Sun Devils were able to exploit that weakness.

“Coach (Zak) Hill did a great job dialing in, trusting me, trusting the receivers to make plays. It was up to us to execute and we did that,” Daniels said. , playing 60 miles from his home in San Bernardin.

But the first long play of the night for ASU was not a play that ended in a touchdown. But Edwards thought it set the tone for things to come. ASU trailed 10-3 early in the second quarter and on the first play of possession that followed, Daniels connected with Geodon Porter for a 47-yard gain.

That drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown by DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum, which tied the score 10-10.

“We hit some big explosion plays in the passing game and we talked about that in the game plan this week. I told them about (Geordon) Porter. He can run. It was nice to see him s ‘involved, on the pitch. I thought that got us going, that Jayden was gone.”

October 2, 2021;  Pasadena, California, USA;  Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (19) celebrates scoring a touchdown against the UCLA Bruins during the first half at the Rose Bowl.  Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The connection between Daniels and Pearsall then proved significant on back-to-back possessions and gave the Sun Devils a lead they would not relinquish. The first 65-yard strike came with 8:20 left in the half and tied the game at 17-17.

The second came on the next possession and went for 54 yards, giving the visitors a 24-20 lead.

They had entered the game with just one play for 40+ yards in the previous four games.

“We emphasize those every day in training and in the game plan as well,” Pearsall said. “We just went out there and did what we do in training and played and executed the games. We are never satisfied as an attack. This is just a taste of what we can do.”

UCLA coach Chip Kelly also referred to big plays as backbreakers.

“I think the X playing on the defensive side of the ball really hurt us, those two big long passes. We had deep security issues today. They’ve done a good job exploiting that, taking advantage of that. So you have to give them credit.

There’s also been some big play in the field and that’s thanks to Rachaad White, who took charge in the backfield for the past three weeks with Trayanum with a sprained ankle.

White broke free on a 49-yard run early in the third quarter, and Trayanum ran for a 2-point conversion for a 32-23 lead that held.

While the long shots proved the strengths of the night, they had a downside as it meant the ASU defense was back on the court quickly. Despite what turned out to be a lopsided scoreline, UCLA went 83 games while ASU only had 51 and time of possession favored the Bruins from 34:42 to 25:18.

The defense, however, resisted. Whenever it looked like the Bruins (3-1, 1-1) had momentum in their favor, the Sun Devils responded.

The start of the fourth quarter is proof of that. On the final play of the third quarter, an already shorthanded defense lost linebacker Kyle Soelle who drew a targeting call with the Bruins heading into the red zone.

Moments later, UCLA worked the ball deep where they had a fourth-and-one at ASU 2. But true rookie Eric Gentry, a lanky 6-foot-6, 205-pound lanky made the save for a loss of 2 yards giving the Sun Devils the momentum for good.

The Sun Devils responded with an 11-play pro drive that covered 96 yards, went 6:52 down, giving ASU a 39-23 lead and the defense a much-needed break.

“It’s the next-man mentality,” defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce said of his defense. “A lot of young guys got up and did a hell of a job. They kept fighting. It wasn’t pretty at times, but when it mattered the most, in the red zone, we had our biggest saves. I’m just proud of them. You know, 83 games is a lot.”

The Sun Devils were once again without some key players on defense. Safety Evan Fields (undisclosed injury) didn’t even make the trip. Defensive end Tyler Johnson was questionable but played. The defensive line was already without Jermayne Lole (triceps) and Travez Moore (knee) out for the season.

The Sun Devils return home next week for a Friday showdown against Stanford that upset No. 3 Oregon 31-24 in overtime.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

Subscribe to azcentral.com today.