ASU football wins third straight game in 31-28 victory over UCLA

The Sun Devils earned the victory on senior night with a win over the visiting Bruins

It wasn’t its most complete victory, or its prettiest, but it was a victory nonetheless as ASU secured bowl eligibility with a 31-28 victory over the UCLA Bruins

A strong offensive performance, highlighted by another incredible game for sophomore running back Eno Benjamin, gave the Sun Devils their third straight win as they capped off their final home game of the season. 

“That game right there, four weeks ago, we don’t win,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “We’re just ok right now, we’re playing good enough to win games. Earlier in the season, I sat in my chair in Colorado and said we’re good enough to be close. We’ve gotten a little bit better since then, and now we’re good enough to win games and we’ve won three in a row.”

Redshirt senior quarterback Manny Wilkins exited Sun Devil Stadium for the final time today, leaving victorious after an up-and-down performance that was just good enough to pull out the win. Finishing with three total touchdowns and 259 total yards, Wilkins struggled finding consistency through the air, but he came through when ASU needed him most. 

His ability to milk the clock throughout the second half gave a struggling Sun Devil defense some much needed rest, and his orchestration of multiple 15 play drives late in the third quarter and into the fourth all but quelled any chances of a Bruin comeback. 

“We just stayed the course,” Wilkins said. “They knew what we were going to run, we knew what they were going to run, and it’s all about who wants it more. I think you could see that. It’s a look in our eyes right now, and we damn sure wanted it, and we still want it.”

The emotional toll of a moment like senior day can not be understated, and its effect on the players was obvious from the opening kickoff. Early on ASU’s effort was there, but the team's execution was sloppy as it allowed the UCLA offense to drive down the field with ease. 

Each of the Bruins' first four drives ended in Sun Devil territory, and ASU was lucky to escape only allowing 14 total points. A handful of halftime adjustments though produced a much different second half, as the Sun Devil defense clamped down and secured the victory on senior day.  

“It was important these seniors left this field with a win,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “We talked about it all week, how this would be the last time they play in this stadium. That was on everyone’s mind. When you’re a senior, your eyes are all watered up. I get it, this is your day.” 

Benjamin had another fantastic day running the ball, totaling 182 yards on the ground en route to collecting his 12th rushing touchdown of the season. His performance today marks his third straight game with over 175 yards rushing, as ASU moves to 5-0 when Benjamin collects over 130 yards on the ground. 

“I’m not saying I don’t want to pass the ball, but I think to be tough in moments like this, when you can run the football is says something about who you are,” Edwards said. “I liked the way we ran it. It’s amazing, I know in this world everyone wants to see high scores and they want to see the ball thrown all over the yard, but I think if you run the ball with consistency you have a chance to have a pretty good football team.”

As the team now prepares for its final two games of the season, a small group of players was faced with the realities of their impending departure from Arizona State.

Few took it harder than Wilkins, whose self-described journey is one of turmoil and hardships, but is also filled with moments of pure, unfiltered joy. 

"This place will be forever special to me, I’m not going to go ghost, I’ll always be back here, just cause this place is very special to me. I grew from a boy to a man, and it’s bigger than football,” Wilkins said.  

Preparation now begins for next week’s game against the Oregon Ducks, as ASU travels to Eugene with a chance to further solidify its spot in the Pac-12 championship. A goal that once appeared impossible now may be in reach, as wins in ASU's final two games guarantees the Sun Devils a Pac-12 championship game berth. 

“I told (the team) this was going to be the hardest game they play all year, and it turned out to be that,” Edwards said. “ I kept warning the players that this is what type of game it’s going to be, and lo and behold it showed up. To their credit, they withstood the peaks and valleys of the game, and they kept their poise. We learned a lot about ourselves today.” 


Reach the reporter at Jrosenfa@asu.edu or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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