TEMPE — The No. 25 of Ka’Deem Carey faded into the tunnel as he walked toward what would be a somber Arizona locker room, as Arizona State’s Will Sutton ran around the field, clutching the Territorial Cup aloft in his left hand.
Sutton and his gang of men along the Sun Devils’ defensive front stuffed Carey early in the game and hounded B.J. Denker into a night he wants to forget (if only he could). It was simply ASU’s night. A night to run around the field with the prized trophy and a two-game winning streak over its rivals.
Riding the wind of a six-game winning streak and the Pac-12 South title, Arizona State breezed to a 27-0 lead and then dismissed the Arizona Wildcats’ comeback attempts, winning 58-21 at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night.
“We physically dominated the game,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham. “I thought we dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
The Wildcats will have to wait another year to mount a counter-argument.
“They played well. We played poorly,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
“I’ve said it many times; we aren’t good enough to play poorly and win. And we certainly didn’t play well against this team.”
A quick recount of Arizona’s sins:
–Four turnovers, including three interceptions from Denker, with one returned for a touchdown.
–A missed 42-yard field goal near the end of the first half.
–A failure to convert, three times, on fourth-and-1.
The overall performance, Rodriguez concluded, was “embarrassing.”
“I’m not embarrassed of my players. I’m not embarrassed to be their coach. I’m just embarrassed we didn’t play our best game,” Rodriguez said. “I wish we would have. We didn’t. You have to give them some of the credit for that, too. That’s a good team.”
Arizona State (10-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) is marching on as hosts of the Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford on Saturday. Arizona (7-5, 4-5) awaits its bowl destination, which will be announced next Sunday.
“This one sucked. It stings,” Denker said. “But, luckily, we have a bowl game … so I know we’re going to be focused on that. If we go out with a win in our bowl game it will taste a lot better than what it does right now.”
Between Arizona State’s stout defense and Arizona mistakes, the Wildcats were up to their necks early, down 27-0 midway through the second quarter.
Arizona was in the process of shoveling out of its grave on a couple of occasions before falling back. The Cats were driving to make it 27-14 late in the first half, but had to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-5. Jake Smith missed wide left.
Rodriguez said he was tempted to go for it rather than attempt the kick.
“In hindsight, if I had to do it all over again, I would go for it,” he said.
“I know it’s hindsight. Then as soon as we missed the kick, of course it’s easy to say we should have gone. But we should have went for it. That’s on me.”
ASU responded with a drive and a 23-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to make it 30-7 at the half.
And then, after cutting the lead to 30-14 in the third quarter, the Cats were at the ASU 38, facing third-and-4, momentum within their grasp. That was before ASU free safety Damarious Randall stepped into the passing lane, picked off Denker’s pass and raced across the grass 64 yards for a touchdown.
“We ran that route probably four or five times, got it all four times,” Denker said. “And then they just had a little robber looking at my eyes. He knew it was coming and played it well.”
Remember, oh about a week ago, when Arizona intercepted a pass on the first snap of the game and continued to build one momentum play upon another in a rout of fifth-ranked Oregon? Yeah, that didn’t happen Saturday night.
Arizona held ASU to a 38-yard field goal on the opening possession, which wasn’t so bad, but everything quickly turned worse.
Before Steven Gurrola even snapped the ball to Denker, the Wildcats suffered a delay-of-game penalty. Moving backward. A negative play. Exactly the thing the Cats, who usually move in small chunks of real estate, need to avoid.
First snap: Loss of 4 yards. Second snap: Incomplete. Third snap: Sacked. Fourth snap: 12-yard punt.
It just snowballed from there. Arizona State had eight tackles for loss and started five drives on UA’s side of the field. That’s a big reason why the Devils scored their most points in the series since putting up 61 in 1951.
“I thought we had a little bit of momentum in the third quarter and had it going for a little bit,” Rodriguez said, “and then they made a play and that was that.”
Arizona State got 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries from D.J. Foster, subbing for injured tailback Marion Grice. Foster was chosen as Bob Moran Most Valuable Player of the game.
Carey eventually got his yards — 157 on 32 carries — but there usually wasn’t enough daylight between the tackles as ASU devoted extra defenders to stopping him, which forced Denker to keep the ball and try to make plays. Carey didn’t even touch the ball until the team’s eighth snap.
Arizona adjusted later in the game — Carey had 59 yards in a touchdown drive to open the second half — but, as he said, “It was too late. That’s all I can say.”
Arizona State had only a modest edge in total yards — 478 to 424 — but won just about every crucial situation and did, indeed, dominate the line of scrimmage.
That’s the truth the Cats will have to live with until the team meet again.
“I told the team that this shouldn’t define them,” Rodriguez said.
“It’s hard right now. We’ll all going to be ticked off for 24 hours or more, but this shouldn’t define our senior class. It shouldn’t define our team because we’ve had some nice wins. We’ll be better. We’re going to keep getting better.”