ASU falls to Wisconsin on missed opportunities

GAME-WINNER: Wisconsin junior running back John Clay runs in a touchdown during Saturday's game in Madison. The touchdown proved to be the game-winner and Clay finished with 125 yards on 22 carries. (Photo Courtesy of Norm Ritland)

MADISON, WIS. — Oh so close.

After a late touchdown run by sophomore running back Cameron Marshall in the fourth quarter, ASU was just an extra point away from tying up No. 11 Wisconsin in front of a sell-out crowd at Camp Randall Stadium.

But as is often the case, it just wasn’t meant to be for the Sun Devils (2-1).

Senior Thomas Weber’s extra point attempt was blocked by UW senior safety Jay Valai, and the Badgers ran the final 4:09 off the clock to hold on to a 20-19 victory.

“We felt like we were going to come in here and win the game,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “We need to beat teams like this to get where we need to be in our football program. We came in and competed, but fell short.”

The Sun Devils had plenty of chances to earn the upset.

After UW senior kicker Philip Welch missed a 44-yard field goal on the opening drive, ASU drove down the field with ease and had a first and goal before stalling on the 7-yard line.

That set up what appeared to be a chip shot field goal for Weber, but he missed it wide left.

The Badgers (3-0) took the momentum and drove into ASU territory, setting up a 49-yard field goal for Welch. This time he made it and UW led 3-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, ASU junior returner Omar Bolden went untouched into the end zone for a 97-yard kickoff return, the longest in Camp Randall Stadium history.

The Sun Devils had another long drive into UW territory to open the second quarter, but again, a mistake proved costly.

On 2nd down and five from the UW 8-yard line, junior wide receiver George Bell dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from junior quarterback Steven Threet.

On the very next play, Threet looked Bell’s way again, but Bell was out of bounds. Instead of a touchdown, the Sun Devils settled for a 25-yard field goal to go up 10-3.

UW cut into the ASU lead on a 44-yard field goal by Welch with 6:01 to play in the half. The Badgers got the ball back and went 71 yards on 11 plays in 3:38, capped off by a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Scott Tolzien to senior tight end Lance Kendricks.

The Badgers might not have had time left in the half to score a touchdown had it not been for a pass interference penalty on Bolden a play earlier.

With just 10 seconds left in the half, madness ensued on the following kickoff. Freshman Kyle Middlebrooks took the kick back 95 yards, but was hauled down one yard shy of the end zone as the half came to a close with UW leading 13-10.

“We were one step away before the half,” Erickson said. “I don’t know in my career that I have ever seen that happen.”

The Sun Devils took the ball down the field to open up the third quarter, but yet again could not punch it in for a touchdown. Threet’s third down pass into the end zone was broken up, and ASU settled for a 36-yard field goal from Weber to tie the game at 13-13.

UW took the lead late in the third quarter, when Clay and freshman running back James White combined for 61 yards on the drive, completed by a 19-yard touchdown scamper from Clay.

After the teams traded punts, ASU got the ball on their own 23-yard line with 7:43 to play. The drive was executed to perfection, with a combination of runs and passes. Threet was calm under pressure and led ASU down the field, eventually finishing with a two-yard touchdown run by Marshall.

All they needed was an extra point to tie. Valai had other ideas.

The senior dove in from the left side and blocked Weber’s kick, ultimately winning the game.

Threet didn’t even see the block; he was busy motivating the defense to give him the ball back.

“I was making my way down to the defense and talking to them about getting the ball back,” Threet said. “I didn’t see it until I heard the crowd. It’s tough but part of the game.”

Bolden said that Threet was the man he wanted with the ball in his hands to end the game, but he didn’t get another chance.

ASU kicked off to UW and another mistake cost them greatly.

On a second down pass, junior defensive end James Brooks was flagged for a personal foul penalty for hitting Kendricks away from the play. That gave UW a critical first down.

The play that sealed the victory was not a run by Clay, but a perfectly executed play-action pass from Tolzien to Kendricks for 17 yards on third down. The play-action pass and Kendricks killed ASU all game long.

“I am not going to lie, it was pretty tough,” Bolden said of the play-action pass. “You feel like they are going to run the ball every play; and we are so worried about that, we made a few mistakes.”

In the end, the Badgers simply ran out the clock.

Freshman running back Deantre Lewis ran for 122 yards on nine carries for ASU. Clay ran for 123 yards and the decisive touchdown for the Badgers.

“He’s a heck of a back and their line is awfully good,” Erickson said of Clay. “We played it well at times, but as the game wore on, which is their philosophy, they started running the ball.”

However, the combination that hurt ASU the most was Tolzien and Kendricks. Without its top two receivers, Kendricks stepped up for UW and caught seven passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

On offense, ASU was hurt by not being able to finish drives. In a one-point loss, having to settle for field goals hurt.

“There is no question offensively we missed opportunities to score touchdowns,” Erickson said.

While there were a lot of positives to come out of the loss, it was one of the toughest losses ASU has had to swallow in a long time.

“I don’t believe in moral victories,” Threet said. “We came and played well. It just wasn’t enough; we have to make things happen in Pac-10 play.”

Read a live play-by-play blog from the game here.