When UCLA freshman kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal attempt sailed through the uprights, the once boisterous Sun Devil crowd was collectively silenced, as memories from the 2011 season were prevalent.
As time expired, UCLA’s (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) fourth score of the second half gave the Bruins a 45-43 victory over the Sun Devils (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12).
Every loss is disappointing, but some certainly sting more than others. Trying to rebound from a blowout loss to No. 4 Oregon, ASU knew it needed to beat UCLA to solidify its place in the Pac-12 South.
“It’s a tough one to swallow, but we have to stick together as a team,” redshirt junior cornerback Osahon Irabor said. “We can’t listen to the people on the outside.”
The Sun Devils got off to a slow start, but opened the second half with touchdowns on three of their first four drives. On third and five, with one minute and 33 seconds left in the game, redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly rolled to his right and hit freshman running back D.J. Foster in the end zone.
The freshman running back’s seven-yard touchdown reception gave ASU a 43-42 lead, but the defense was unable to hold it. UCLA marched 60 yards on 12 plays to set up the game-winning field goal.
“It came down to one drive and play, and we didn’t play very well,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “We missed a lot of tackles today. Obviously we didn’t get it done, but I’m really proud of our guys and how hard they played.”
UCLA’s final drive is the one people will remember, but the Bruins offense had its way with the ASU defense all day. The Sun Devils secondary entered Saturday’s contest allowing a measly 130 passing yards per game, but UCLA redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 274.
“They were successful in getting off a couple passes off against us,” redshirt senior cornerback Deveron Carr said. “The only way to solve that is to get the troops rallied up. We need preparation, focus, and discipline in the meeting room. We need to come out on Tuesday and practice hard.”
ASU was facing a familiar foe, as UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone held the same position in Tempe for the past two seasons. However, Mazzone had tricks up a sleeve and gave the Sun Devils some looks they weren’t prepared for.
“I feel like they put a lot of wrinkles in,” Carr said. “We practiced certain things that they did not run at all, and it put us in an adverse situation. At the same time, I feel like we work hard and we should be able to handle that.”
The loss to UCLA not only hinders ASU’s chances of winning the Pac-12 South, but the two consecutive losses — especially given the fashion in which both unfolded — is reminiscent of the collapse from a season ago.
Fans will undoubtedly make the comparisons between the 2011 and 2012 versions of the Sun Devils, but the players feel this season will be different.
“Make any comparison you want to,” redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Magee said. “We can’t pay attention to what people say on the outside. We have a tough game against Oregon State coming up and we are focused on that now … We are a completely different team. We never stop battling, even in the fourth quarter and third quarter, we were behind and came back and we still battled throughout the whole game.”
Whether or not this team’s finish will mirror last season’s is yet to be determined, but a strong showing on the road against Oregon State will help reverse the impending perception.
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