As always, the UCLA hype ends with a disappointing thud, this time not even going to the conference championship game. Unlike most years, Arizona State live up to the expectations, claiming the division title thanks to a 38-33 win in the Rose Bowl, a game they might return to if things go well in the next few weeks.
Taylor Kelly, not for the first time this season, carried the Sun Devils on his back, finishing with 225 passing yards (one touchdown) and 99 more on the ground, scoring the first touchdown of the game. UCLA came back from that early shock with scores from Devin Lucien and Ka’imi Fairbairn, but the next time the Bruins scored was late in the second quarter, narrowing the margin down to 15 points. A late second half surge did get them close (8 points), but Arizona State dug deep and played some great defense to keep Brett Hundley from doing anything special.
It was a big game from Mario Grice as well. He ran for 95 yards and added 7 receptions for 72 yards, as Arizona State clinched the division for the first time since the conference split. They still have to play against Arizona in their rivalry game, but they’ve already beaten the suddenly surging USC, so even a loss to the Wildcats won’t change the fact that they’re heading to play Stanford for the conference title, something they haven’t won since 2007 as a co-champion. A win there will mean they’ll play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997.
It’s the first time the two schools have met as ranked opponents since 1986, but UCLA might be slipping out of the rankings by the end of the regular season considering they’re free fall over the last five weeks, and USC waiting for them at the end of the rainbow, hoping to reclaim their dominance in the Los Angeles rivalry.
Arizona State have already played Stanford this season, losing by 14 points in a game that wasn’t even that close, but there’s no doubt they’ve vastly improved since then, beating USC by 21 points, losing to Notre Dame by only three and then winning six in a row, including two ranked teams in Washington and UCLA. They still have plenty of distance to go before they’re considered a national powerhouse like many think this program has the potential of becoming under the right circumstances, but no matter what happens against Arizona, the Sun Devils made a name for themselves this season.
I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and that’s the most impressive display of heart by a team that I’ve ever seen. To watch these kids lay it on the line with that kind of heart was overwhelming to me.
UCLA weren’t too gracious in defeat, not feeling like they were beaten by a better team.
We were in it. We had shots. Those are the what-ifs and the could-have-beens, and they don’t matter. We just have to get better from it. And we will. Nothing we hadn’t seen before. Just their tempo in the first couple of series hurt us, and their quarterback hurt us with his legs. We made those adjustments, but it was too little, too late.