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Football handled by Cal, drops fourth straight

California senior linebacker D.J. Holt takes down ASU junior quarterback Brock Osweiler during the Golden Bears 47-38 win over the Sun Devils on Friday. After starting the season at 6-2, the Sun Devils lost their final four games to close out the regular season. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)
California senior linebacker D.J. Holt takes down ASU junior quarterback Brock Osweiler during the Golden Bears 47-38 win over the Sun Devils on Friday. After starting the season at 6-2, the Sun Devils lost their final four games to close out the regular season. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

Looking back, ASU coach Dennis Erickson had every reason to put all his eggs in the 2011 basket.

The university outfitted him and his 24 seniors with a grandiose marketing campaign, a school-wide rebranding effort and a reinvigorated fan base.

But ultimately, the more things changed in Tempe, the more they stayed the same.

The Sun Devils (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) dropped their fourth straight game Friday 47-38 to California to finish their once dream-like 2011 regular season with the same record as 2010.

“In all my years in this business, I don’t think I’ve ever had a slide like this,” Erickson said. “I can probably think and think for years but we just haven’t been playing with confidence. I wish I could put my finger on it but I’ve never really experienced anything like this.”

On Oct. 29, ASU defeated Colorado 42-14 to become bowl-eligible at 6-2. Since then, the Sun Devils haven’t won, falling in each November game by a total of 24 points.

“It hurts a lot just because we as a team worked so hard this off-season,” ASU junior quarterback Brock Osweiler said. “I don’t know why it happened, but I’m a firm believer in this life everything happens for a reason.”

ASU committed 11 penalties for 121 yards to go along with four turnovers while the defense allowed 484 total yards of offense to the Golden Bears (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12).

“We thought we had arrived,” ASU redshirt senior defensive tackle Bo Moos said. “I don’t know if there was someone who really stepped up. We were missing a vocal leader and that showed up in the second half of the season.”

With the rapid descent from BCS hopes to a .500 ending, the question of Erickson’s job security left a palpable mark on the waning moments of the game.

“Everybody wants an answer to this and I don’t have one,” he said. “We’ll sit down soon and talk about the future of this program and what’s best for it.”

Osweiler finished Friday 21-of-37 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. ASU junior wide receiver Rashad Ross caught five passes for 108 yards and a score while junior running back Cameron Marshall ran for 157 yards and two scores to tie the single season school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 18.

“It’s bitter sweet; a lot more bitter than sweet,” Marshall said. “We wanted to win and that’s what we’ve been working hard for. It’s nice but we wanted to win.”

The Sun Devils were already eliminated from the Pac-12 title game earlier Friday when Utah lost at home to Colorado. Now ASU will await a bowl invite to know where the team will play next.

“We are going to regroup, get healthy and get refreshed,” Osweiler said. “Some guys will get the chance to go home and just breathe a little bit.  This month was intense and I think having a few weeks off will be good for our football team.”

Cal began the night with six play drive ending in a 48 yard field goal by senior kicker Giorgio Tavecchio. ASU countered on its first possession with an 11 play drive highlighted by an Osweiler 16 yard run and a Marshall one yard touchdown run.

The Golden Bears regained the lead less than two minutes later on an 18 yard junior running back Isi Sofele scoring run to go up 10-7. After ASU junior running back Kyle Middlebrooks fumbled on the Sun Devils’ next drive, Cal needed just two plays to get in the endzone again, this time on a junior quarterback Zach Maynard 16 yard scramble.

The Sun Devils cut into the 10 point deficit on the first snap of the second quarter with a 17 yard touchdown grab by ASU redshirt senior wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad.

With five minutes left in the first half, Cal junior running back C.J. Anderson responded with a one yard scoring run to put the Golden Bears up 24-14. On ASU’s next play from scrimmage, Cal junior cornerback Marc Anthony intercepted Osweiler at the Sun Devil 16 yard line. Even though the Golden Bears didn’t capitalize on the turnover, a 27 yard field goal extended their lead up to 13 points.

Facing a double digit locker room hole, ASU answered with a fourth down 35 yard touchdown pass from Osweiler to Ross in the corner of the endzone. On the ensuing kickoff, the Sun Devils forced a Cal fumble to snatch the ball back with a minute left in the half. Three plays later, Osweiler connected with ASU senior tight end Trevor Kohl for a four yard score to take a 28-27 advantage into the break.

The Sun Devils opened the second half with another scoring drive, this one highlighted by a Marshall 34 yard run and ending with an ASU redshirt freshman kicker Alex Garoutte 47 yard field goal. On Cal’s next possession, the Golden Bears drove 77 yards to take a 34-31 lead on an Anderson three yard touchdown run. The ASU defense committed three personal foul penalties in the seven plays to aid Cal move the ball.

After a Sun Devil punt into the endzone, Maynard scrambled and hit Anderson behind the ASU secondary on third down for a 74 yard catch and touchdown run to put Cal on top 41-31 late in the third quarter. ASU countered two minutes later via a Marshall 24 yard scoring run to get the Sun Devils to within three points again.

After the Golden Bears added a 19 yard field goal, ASU moved its way into Cal territory with the chance to take the lead. But a Marshall fumble handed the ball back to Cal with nine minutes remaining. Unable to stop the bleeding, the ASU defense allowed the Golden Bears to milk five and a half minutes off the clock and kick a 30 yard field goal to go up by two possessions.

The Sun Devils’ final opportunity ended with an Osweiler interception in traffic at the Cal 12 yard line with two minutes left.

“That last turnover just ended up killing us,” Erickson said. “We had four turnovers and you can’t do that, particularly when you aren’t playing well on defense.”

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