ASU football rights ship with win over UCLA

The Sun Devils kept the Bruins one-dimensional and eked out a much-needed win

It's rare that a 4-1 team plays a must-win game at home, but that's the position ASU football found itself in on Saturday — at least to the outside world. Following a blowout loss to USC last week, ASU was put in a position to prove itself once again to the college football world.

The Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) rose to the occasion, dispatching the UCLA Bruins 23-20 Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium without redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins.

The first half played as a war of attrition, as neither offense could muster much momentum — or yardage.

The teams combined for 101 total yards in the first half, averaging 2.5 yards per play and punting the ball 13 times, including the final nine possessions of the half.

Senior kicker Zane Gonzalez tallied ASU's only points of the first half and was matched by UCLA freshman JJ Molson, who booted through just one of his three field goal attempts to go into the halfitme locker rooms tied at 3.

Without a consistent offense, the Sun Devil defense knew it could not let UCLA and sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen get comfortable.

"We knew to win this game we were going to have to bunker down and play some tremendous defense," redshirt junior linebacker Marcus Ball said. "That's what we did in the second half. We came out plus-three on turnovers and came out with a win."

Rosen was under constant pressure from the Sun Devils and left the game multiple times due to injury, once in each half, pleasing head coach Todd Graham.

"We got back to sacking quarterbacks and TFLs and getting after people," Graham said. "Tonight, I challenged our guys. If you want to win a championship, want to win the Pac-12 South, we got to play championship defense and they rose to the occasion."

Graham cited one of the biggest plays against the Sun Devils and one of the most important sequences of the second half and game.

With the Sun Devils up 13-3, Rosen found sophomore running back Soso Jamabo on the right sideline. Jamabo turned upfield and scampered towards the goal line for what looked like an easy touchdown, until junior linebacker Koron Crump chased him down and made a tackle.

The ASU defense was able to hold the Bruins and force a field goal, earning the praise of Graham.

"I thought that was big time from our players," Graham said. "That says a lot about them."

The field goal kept the ASU lead at seven instead of three and allowed the Sun Devils to hold on to a lead until the end of the game, sealing it when freshman Robbie Robinson intercepted redshirt senior quarterback Mike Fafaul to end the game.

In the fourth quarter, while Brady White was playing his best football of the night, he went down with an injury on the right sideline and was tended to by trainers before being replaced by freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole. Graham said after the game that there's no update on White, but "it didn't look good."

However, with White at the helm, the second half played smoother than the first, and redshirt senior receiver Tim White noticed a definite change in play over the final 30 minutes.

"I think we played a great game in the second half," White said. "We put up a couple points to get away with a victory and our defense did a great job. They showed exactly what they could do."

While few outside of ASU's offices in Tempe believed in the Sun Devils, Graham said it's irrelevant, as long as they win games.

"It doesn't matter what everyone says," Graham said. "I don't think anybody picked us. It doesn't matter."


Reach the reporter at mtonis@asu.edu or follow @Tonis_The_Tiger on Twitter.

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