TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's no place like home.
Throughout the 2013 season, the Arizona State Sun Devils have been dominant at home, and following a two-game road swing, their return to Tempe was much anticipated as they hosted a dangerous Oregon State team.
While it didn't replicate the roaring successes of prior weeks, the end result was the same: Sun Devil victory.
The Sun Devils started strong and finished just well enough, putting lackluster football in the middle behind them as they beat the Beavers 30-17 to improve to 8-2 on the year, and more importantly, 6-1 in Pac-12 play.
"Coach (Todd Graham) congratulated the guys," ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly said. "He said we have sixty minutes to achieve our goal next week. We’re going to put this win behind us and move on to UCLA tomorrow."
Marion Grice ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Jaelen Strong returned to form with seven catches for 106 to lead an otherwise sluggish ASU offense.
Defensively, Robert Nelson intercepted two passes, including one he returned 23 yards for the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter. Those were part of five Beaver turnovers on the night.
"We are playing championship level defense," said Graham. "If you can’t run the ball, you are not going to have a chance to win. We did a great job of shutting the run down."
ASU held OSU to just 70 yards on the ground, but it was the play of the secondary that garnered his highest praise.
“They made some spectacular interceptions," said Graham. "We have some great players with great athleticism. When they see the ball come out of the quarterback’s hand they have a great break on the football. They are really smart. We are running a lot of different things and a lot of different coverages."
“They’re good, I like their team. They are excellent defensive team," said Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. "Talented, and they are well coached. Offensively they utilize their personnel well and they are pretty diverse I’d say.”
The win means ASU still controls their Pac-12 South division title destiny. They can clinch their first Pac-12 South division championship and earn a spot in the conference championship game with a win next Saturday over UCLA in Pasadena.
As ASU has all year within Sun Devil Stadium, they got off to a fast start.
Four Strong receptions covering 66 yards on the opening drive accounted for all but nine yards of the game's opening possession, which ended with a one-yard Grice touchdown run.
Two underthrown Taylor Kelly passes then prevented ASU from taking total control of the game, as each attempt was well underthrown. However, the Sun Devil defense prevented the Beavers from making much progress, and Nelson's first interception ended one such OSU drive.
On a late first quarter drive, ASU was given a first down after a failed third down attempt, and a 40-yard run by Grice on the next play set up D.J. Foster's eight-yard scoring run two plays later. The extra point was blocked.
Another Oregon State mistake put more points on the board for ASU. The Sun Devils' first drive of the second quarter stalled after 11 plays, but Brandin Cooks muffed the punt, which was recovered by Robert Nelson.
“I muffed it. I muffed the punt," said Cooks. "I didn’t drop it on purpose, my intention was to catch the ball, it was a fair catch but, I dropped the punt. I have to live with it and move on from it.”
ASU wasted little time taking advantage, as just four plays later, Grice ran it in from a yard out for his 20th touchdown of the year.
Oregon State did manage to get on the scoreboard at the end of the half. Thanks to a pair of fourth down conversions—one on a 13-yard catch-and-run by Cooks on 4th and 12, another on an ASU offsides penalty on 4th and 5—Oregon State kicked a short field goal as time expired
It appeared like ASU would take total control over the game after safety Alden Darby made a leaping interception of a Mannion pass on the opening drive of the second half. However, the ASU offense would be out of sync throughout the quarter, failing to score.
The same could not be said of Oregon State, who managed a 12-play, 96-yard scoring drive that closed the gap to 20-10 as the game went into the fourth quarter.
With momentum fully on their side, Oregon State was then on the brink of taking full control of the game. After a 10-play drive, they were in position to kick a short field goal to make it a one-score game. However, they were pushed back by a personal foul penalty, and with a long 48-yard attempt requiring a lower trajectory, the Trevor Romaine attempt was blocked by Davon Coleman.
Finally with some momentum, ASU put together a 13-play drive—eating up nearly five valuable minutes—that was capped by an 18-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal, making it 23-10.
On the first play of the ensuing Beaver possession, Nelson jumped in front of a badly telegraphed Mannion passes, returning the interception 23 yards for the touchdown to ice the game.
"I just read the quarterback and made a break on the ball," said Nelson.
The Beavers responded with a late touchdown in garbage team, but ASU recovered the onside kick to secure the win.
Graham is now preparing his team for next week's match-up in Pasadena that could net the Sun Devils their first division title since the Pac-12 split in 2011.
"We have worked a really long time, some of these guys five years, for the opportunity to go to UCLA and compete for the Pac-12 South Championship," said Graham. "We are 60 minutes away, one win away, from clinching the south. That is a big, big deal.”
News, Notes, and Stats
- ASU Devilbacker Carl Bradford was pulled from the game after getting into a sideline shouting match with Todd Graham. Graham said that "mistakes were made" in reference to Bradford's play, and that the matter will be dealt with "in house".
- Rick Smith had seven catches on the night, setting a career-high.
- With his 92nd reception of the season happening in the first quarter reception, Brandin Cooks set a new single-season Oregon State record.
- Robert Nelson has now accounted for eight takeaways on the year. He has a team-best six interceptions, and has recovered two fumbles. He now has interceptions in three straight games, and four of the last five.
- ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez has now made 14 consecutive field goal attempts.
- Grice has rushed for 506 yards over his last four games.
- Attendance: 62,386