Turnovers doom ASU in 38-35 loss to Arizona
The Sun Devils’ rivalry winning streak is over.
TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The game was meaningless, but it meant everything.
There were no division titles on the line. Neither team was going to a bowl. No matter what, Friday was the last day of the season for both teams. But Arizona State and Arizona showed, as they do every year, that the annual battle for possession of the Territorial Cup is a program-defining game.
It was evident in the back-and-forth volley of big and often improbable plays. It manifested in more than a few post-play scuffles, including one near the end that saw the Sun Devil bench clear. It was clear in the faces and voices of the Sun Devils after the game.
“I want to apologize to Sun Devil Nation for this,” senior linebacker and captain Kyle Soelle said while fighting back tears. “Tough year. Tough way to end it. Team really gave it our all.”
The 2022 season had been an extremely difficult campaign for the Sun Devils, marked by a midseason coaching change and struggles on and off the field. Through the ups and the more numerous downs, the Sun Devils continued to fight to the last, and such was the case on Friday afternoon. But they came up just short in a 38-35 loss to their archrival.
“It comes down to a handful of plays, and you either make them or you don’t,” said ASU running back X Valladay.
ASU held a 14-10 halftime edge, and a whirlwind second half saw a number of lead changes. A rare defensive stop late in the fourth quarter gave the Sun Devils a last chance at victory, but their fifth turnover of the day dashed those hopes.
“We can’t turn the ball over five times against a scrappy team like that,” said quarterback Trenton Bourguet.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for ASU in the series. For a player like Soelle, a Valley native who had never lost to Arizona in his career, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow in his last collegiate game. Amid the tears in the locker room, he implored the younger players to use the pain of the defeat as motivation for a brighter future.
“I challenged my teammates in the locker room after that to hold on to that feeling forever,” said Soelle. “In the offseason, remember what that feels like, and don’t ever let that happen again.”
As the program enters an offseason that will be defined by major changes, the new coach will have a key item near the top of his to-do list for 2023: Reclaim the Cup.
“I’m always going to be a Sun Devil.” - Shaun Aguano
After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, ASU got off to a promising start with a 35-yard reception by Gio Sanders. However, the drive stalled out once the Sun Devils entered Wildcat territory with two losses followed by a sack.
Following the punt, the Wildcats went to work against the poor ASU rush defense. Michael Wiley reeled off a 22-yard gain on the first play, and three plays later, ran untouched for a 51-yard score to give Arizona a 7-0 lead.
ASU got rolling again on their next drive into Wildcat territory, but Bourguet lofted a pass too high for tight end Jalin Conyers, and the ball was tipped and intercepted by Jaxen Turner. The Wildcats were unable to take advantage, as a T.J. Pesefea sack forced a punt. But ASU’s Javen Jacobs muffed the return, and the ball was recovered by Arizona. The Sun Devils were able to hold deep in their territory, forcing a 29-yard field goal by Tyler Loop to make in 10-0 early in the second quarter.
With their backs to the wall, the Sun Devil offense finally broke through. After some good runs by Tevin White, ASU got on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run by Valladay. Arizona was poised to answer immediately back, driving to the ASU 5-yard line, but a Jayden de Laura pass with tipped by Soelle and intercepted by Ro Torrence in the endzone. Bourguet marched the offense methodically down the field, and picked up a fourth-and-2 with his legs to sustain the drive. He capped it with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Elijhah Badger to give ASU a 14-10 lead they took into halftime.
Arizona came out firing to open the third quarter. A 27-yard reception by Dorian Singer and a 24-yard run by Jonah Coleman set up Coleman’s 9-yard touchdown run to reclaim the lead.
Bourguet then went to work with one of his best drives of the season. As the Wildcats ramped up their pressure, Bourguet picked up first down on a fourth-and-2 with another run. Later, after a 6-yard loss on first-and-goal, he evaded pressure and found Sanders for a 9-yard score.
The lead would last all of three plays, however. The Wildcats reeled off plays of 42, 21, and 12 yards, the final a scoring run by Wiley.
Arizona managed to get the first defensive stop on the half after ASU had driven inside Wildcat territory when White had the ball stripped by Turner while fighting for extra yards. Wiley then scored on a 72-yard run to make it 31-21.
Facing a do-or-die drive late in the third quarter, Bourguet and the Devils did. A leaping catch by Conyers near the goal line set up Valladay’s 1-yard touchdown run to pull ASU to within three as the fourth quarter began. The Sun Devils then managed to force a three-and-out on Arizona’s next possession. Keyed by a 19-yard end around by Charles Hall IV, ASU found paydirt and the lead with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Conyers.
The track meet continued. Arizona covered 75 yards in just four plays, with a 6-yard touchdown run by D.J. Williams giving them a 38-35 lead.
ASU then responded with a steady drive that soon entered Wildcat territory. Facing a third-and-6, Bourguet was sacked and fumbled, which Arizona’s Tiaoalii Savea recovered and returned to ASU’s 36 with just 3:17 left. But this being the Territorial Cup rivalry, there were more twists and turns left to go.
Aiming to bleed the remaining clock, Arizona went for it on a fourth-and-1, but was stuffed. ASU got the ball and would have one last chance to force overtime or secure the win.
Taking over with 1:33 left, ASU reached midfield after a roughing the passer penalty. But two plays later, a Wildcat defender hit Bourguet’s arm as he attempted a pass, and the ball was intercepted by Isaiah Taylor to secure the win for Arizona and relocate the Territorial Cup.
The Critical Moments
This rivalry often comes down to the final seconds, and the 2022 installment was no different.
Following their fourth-down stop of the Wildcats, ASU had a chance to tie or win the game with just 1:33 left. But one last turnover doomed the Devils to defeat.
“They ended up bringing a corner blitz, and I kind of liked it, because we knew we’d have a one-on-one matchup with our receiver and the safety,” Bourguet said. “We just didn’t have time.”
“I wish I could have it back, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.”
Scoring 35 points and gaining 557 yards should be enough to win most any game.
But not when you have five turnovers.
As a kid growing up in Tucson, Bourguet used to boo the Sun Devils as they took the field. After being unwanted by the Wildcat program under former head coach Kevin Sumlin and beginning his career at ASU as a walk-on, Bourguet led the Sun Devil offense in a valiant, if flawed, effort. In front of an estimated 200 family and friends in the stands, he threw for 376 yards, the fifth-most in rivalry history. He did throw two interceptions, including the final tipped pass, and lost a fumble after being sacked.
Valladay, playing at less than 100 percent with nagging injuries, put forth a determined effort, rushing for 94 yards and two scores. His gutsy showing was more crucial with backup Daniyel Ngata out of action.
ASU’s pass catchers were among the standouts. Sanders had a career-best day, posting eight catches and 120 yards and scoring for the first time in his career. Fellow wideout Badger also had eight catches and gained 92 yards. At tight end, Conyers posted a career-high 10 catches, including one score.
The offensive line struggled against a poor Wildcat defense, allowing eight tackles for loss on the day. The unit has not looked the same since star left guard LaDarius Henderson was injured against Washington on Oct. 8.
There are many talented playmakers that a new coaching staff will look to retain. How many return will be among the primary questions of the offseason.
While it wasn’t the worst showing of the year in terms of points allowed or yardage surrendered, it was certainly the ugliest and most-costly collapse in a season full of them.
ASU’s run defense continued an abysmal stretch of play by allowing 280 yards on just 28 carries, including scoring runs of 72 and 51 yards. Those were two of seven explosive runs allowed by ASU on Friday. Wildcat ball carriers often had large holes as defensive linemen were sealed off and linebackers missed run fits. Perhaps just a below average showing against the run could have flipped Friday’s result.
Thanks to their quick-strike success on the ground, all five of their touchdown drives took 2:31 or less off the clock. Arizona did not have to rely on their vaunted passing game, throwing for just 200 yards.
In his final game as a Sun Devil, Soelle notched five tackles and a pass break up, while fellow senior Khoury Bethley led the team with eight stops from his safety position. Senior defensive tackle T.J. Pesefea, in his final game, logged the team’s lone sack and made the last fourth-down stop to give ASU a last-gasp chance.
As they had been all season long, the Sun Devil defense was too predictable and passive in their scheme, resulting in production that fell below their overall talent level.
The Top 3
Here are three Sun Devils who played well against Arizona.
RB X Valladay: The running back had been the heart and soul of the team, and he left everything he had on the field despite playing hurt.
WR Gio Sanders: Nearly every catch moved the chains or found the endzone in career-best showing.
TE Jalin Conyers: His emergence continued as he again showed his blend of receiving skills and physicality over a career-best 10 receptions.
The Question: What does the next era of Sun Devil football look like?
The season is finally over, bringing with it the unofficial end to the Herm Edwards era, at least on the field. The final findings, and possible punishment, resulting from the NCAA investigation have not yet been released, and may not be for some time. The team does not have a permanent head coach, and the job security of Athletic Director Ray Anderson is tenuous.
It’s a shaky time for Sun Devil football, but there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for a program in dire need of a fresh start.
A new head coach could be in place by the weekend. Among the top contenders is Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who has overseen a potent Duck offense in 2022. Dillingham is a Valley native, ASU graduate, and spent two seasons on the Sun Devil football staff before embarking on career that has taken him to Memphis, Florida State, and Auburn before spending this season in Eugene.
The Next Step
The 2022 season is over, but that doesn’t mean things slow down for the program. The search for a new head coach may be nearing its end, with an announcement possibly coming soon. Stay tuned...
The Extra Points
- There has been speculation that Aguano could remain on the staff of the next head coach. When asked about the possibility after the game, he said, “I’m never an ego guy. I want the Sun Devil Nation to win and be successful. If that includes me, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure we win football games.”
- At 3-9, this is ASU’s worst winning percentage in a season since 1946.
- It had been 2,191 since Arizona’s last football win over ASU.
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