ASU embarrassed at home by No. 12 UCLA, fall 62-27

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- "That was embarrassing."

The first words out of Arizona State head coach Todd Graham's mouth in the post-game press conference summed up Thursday night's game perfectly from a Sun Devil standpoint. 

The 15th ranked Sun Devils were manhandled at home by No. 12 UCLA 62-27 in a key Pac-12 South divisional matchup. The 62 points are the most points surrendered by ASU in the history of Sun Devil Stadium.

In some games, a look at the stat sheet fails to tell the story, and Thursday's game took that to a new level. ASU ran more plays (105 to 58), gained more yards (626 to 580) and held the ball nine minutes longer than the Bruins, but were undone by four turnovers and the inability to prevent big plays. UCLA has touchdown plays of 80, 80, 95, and 100 yards in the game.

The loss deals a big blow to the Sun Devils as they embark upon a difficult stretch of conference games. Next week, ASU travels to Los Angeles to face No. 18 USC. After a bye week, the Sun Devils host No. 16 Stanford and then head to Seattle to face an explosive Washington team.

Much of the concern surrounding ASU heading into this week centered on the quarterback situation. Starter Taylor Kelly was sidelined by a foot injury, and was replaced by redshirt junior Mike Bercovici.

After shaking off some early nerves, Bercovici was able to move ASU effectively, finding tight end Kody Kohl for an early touchdown. That was the key play that led ASU to a 10-6 lead after the first quarter.

That momentum continued early in the second quarter, when Bercovici connected with Cam Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass that put the Sun Devils up 17-6.

It was all downhill from there.

On the third play of the ensuing UCLA drive, quarterback Brett Hundley found Eldridge Massington for a short completion on a third and two. However, he broke free of the tackles, and sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown.

"Eldrige wasn’t satisfied with the first down he stayed with it," said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. "That’s what as a coach you like to see, it has an impact on the rest of your team."

"Tackling was atrocious, said Graham. "Very, very poor tackling. Fundamentally looked bad and looked inexperienced. I am lost for words. I think we got worn down. I do not think our conditioning was very good."

It would be a story throughout the game, as ASU missed several key stops that resulted in decisive gains for the Bruins.

Hundley connected with Nate Iese later in the quarter to give UCLA their first lead of the game, but ASU responded with an 11-play drive to get the ball to the UCLA 17, and a game-tying Zane Gonzalez field goal seemed to be upcoming.

Instead, disaster struck.

On third and 12, Bercovici underthrew his receiver, and cornerback Ishmael Adams made the interception at the five-yard line and sprinted the distance for the touchdown.

“Absolutely unacceptable on my behalf, 100 percent on me," Bercovici said. "I got to understand the situation. We have three points there. We got a great field goal kicker. We can’t put the ball in jeopardy. It’s a learning experience. I’ll never do it again.”

"They (the Sun Devils) had momentum at least their probably going to get a field goal because they have a great field goal kicker, if they score a touchdown now they’re up, and Ish comes up with that play," said Mora. "Initially when he caught it I am thinking he need’s to get down so we have a chance to run a play or two."

Instead of a game tied at 20, UCLA took a 27-17 edge into halftime, but ASU felt they were very much in the game.

"Obviously, the end of the half didn’t go our way with the interception, but we’re a second half team," Bercovici said. "That’s what we train for. We’re confident every single time we go into the second half no matter what the score is–if we’re up 20 or down 20. We know that this program breeds championships to win in the second half and that’s what we’re going to do the rest of the season.”

Any notion of an upset dissipated on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

Hundley found a wide open Jordan Payton along the right sideline, and he took it 80 yards for the Bruin touchdown.

"We come out in the second half playing Cover 3, and let the guy run right by us," said Graham. "I couldn't figure it out. That was obvious critical."

ASU managed to close to within two scores with a Gonzalez field goal five minutes later, but on the ensuing kickoff, the dagger was dealt.

Adams fielded the ball two yards into his end zone, found a lane to his left and was gone for the 100-yard touchdown.

"We're right there with our best players, and we just don't tackle him," said Graham. 

On ASU's next play after the kickoff, Bercovici was sacked from behind, fumbled, and UCLA recovered. After a 22-yard Hundley run on the next play took it to the ASU one-yard line, Nate Starks ran it in for the score. 

"The winner of this game is always the one that wins the turnover battle," said Graham. "We turned the ball over four times. You have to give them a lot of credit."

With hope for a win nearly gone, Bercovici and the Sun Devil offense continued to battle. Bercovici found Ellis Jefferson for a touchdown late in the quarter to keep ASU's slim hopes alive. 

"I was really proud of Mike," said Graham. "I think he did some great things tonight. Obviously, there are a lot of things we can improve, the biggest thing being the turnovers. I thought he made some big plays and showed tremendous promise."

On the night, Bercovici set ASU single-game records with 42 completions and 68 attempts, amassing 488 yards, but his defense simply could not stop the Bruins, who averaged 10 yards per play on the night.

Hundley would tack on two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter—a second connection to Payton and a one-yard run—and the Sun Devils' disastrous night was over.

 

"We did not meet our standards and you find out what you are made of," Graham said. "I am very proud of our guys but we did not represent Sun Devil Nation the way our standards are set and that is to be a championship team.You cannot turn the football over like that and expect to win a football game. You cannot tackle like that and expect to win a football game. You cannot give up kickoff returns and expect to win a football game."

ASU now finds themselves at an early-season crossroads. They fall a game back of UCLA with a difficult road trip to USC just nine days away. A strong bounceback win gets them right back in the race, while another loss may take them out of it.

Graham is confident this dark moment will bring out the best of his team.

"How you respond is you focus on your character and our kids have great character," said Graham. "We will bounce back. We just have to keep working hard.

"No one will go in this league undefeated and our guys will respond like champions."