No. 15 ASU tops Utah in overtime, takes control of Pac-12 SouthPosted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was the hard fought battle that everyone expected, and the ending Sun Devil fans wanted.
Zane Gonzalez kicked a 36-yard field goal in overtime to cap a frantic finish and elevate No. 15 Arizona State to a 19-16 victory over No. 18 Utah late Saturday night. It was Gonzalez's fourth field goal of the night, as well as his most important of his Sun Devil career. His performance helped to bail out an offense that consistently failed to finish drives and converted just two of 14 third downs.
"I did what I had to do," Gonzalez said after the game.
So did the Sun Devil defense, as they continued their remarkable turnaround by holding the Utes to just 241 yards—just 57 through the air—while making eight tackles for loss. During a second half that saw the Sun Devil offense struggle, the ASU defense kept the team in the game.
"We got guys that believe in each other," said ASU safety Jordan Simone of the Sun Devil defense. "We believe in the scheme and we believe in our coaches. When you got a defense like that, that's a national championship type of defense."
The victory puts ASU solely atop the Pac-12 South standings as the only one-loss team in the division.
"You cannot be a champion without winning the close games," said ASU head coach Todd Graham.
However, it was a win that the Sun Devils nearly gave away on multiple occasions.
ASU took the opening drive of the game to the Ute two-yard line, but had to settle for Gonzalez's first field goal of the night. On their next possession, ASU's drive stalled at the Utah 28, and they came away with just another field goal and a 6-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Utah managed just 21 yards in the first quarter, as the Sun Devil defense forced Utah to punt on their first three possessions.
However, the Utes got a break early in the second quarter when ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly was intercepted by Gionni Paul. While it was his only interception of the game, it was part of a forgettable night for the ASU senior. Kelly was just 18 of 32 for 205 yards on the night, and misfired on a number of throws.
The interception set up Utah at their own 40-yard line. They managed a pair of first downs before the Sun Devil defense locked down. Utah kicker Andy Phillips' kick was good from 50 yards and the ASU lead was cut in half.
The Sun Devil offense then responded with their lone touchdown drive of the game. True freshman running back Demario Richard started the drive with a 32-yard run, part of a career-high 116 yards he had on the night.
"He is going to be a fantastic running back," said Graham of Richard. "I think as he learns and continues to be mentored by D.J. (Foster), he will be a great back."
Four plays later, Kelly found Jaelen Strong for a six-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the endzone to put ASU up 13-6. That was the lead ASU took with them into the half.
Utah rebounded with their best drive of the night to open the third quarter. Keyed by 32-yard run by quarterback Travis Wilson on a third and one, Utah found themselves with a first and goal at the Sun Devil eight. Two plays later, Wilson found running back Devontae Booker for a four-yard touchdown pass that tied up the game.
"We felt good after the score," said Booker, who rushed for 146 yards on 37 carries. "We felt like we could continue to score, but it did not go as planned."
Nothing went as planned for ASU's offense in the third quarter.
ASU managed to move the ball just 25 yards in the quarter, while they racked up a very uncharacteristic four penalties for 40 yards.
“We just kept hurting ourselves whether it was penalties, missed reads, sacks, those kind of things," said Kelly. "Utah is a great defense. You can’t do that to yourself and put yourself in that position.”
While ASU struggled, Utah took their first lead of the game midway through the quarter, when Phillips hit from 44 yards out to give the Utes a 16-13 lead.
Following a shanked 19-yard pooch punt by Kelly, Utah was driving to increase their lead. Given the struggles of ASU's offense, Utah elected to go for it on a fourth and one at the ASU 41-yard line, but Simone and Antonio Longino stuffed Booker for a one-yard loss.
"I just think we have a swagger about ourselves," said ASU safety Damarious Randall. "Once that swagger gets established, we just swarm the ball and everybody trusts each other.”
Both defenses continued to play strong in the fourth quarter. ASU came into the game averaging over 36 points per game, but continually were thwarted by a very tough Utah defense that had four sacks on the night.
"We took a lot of sacks. We got beat on some big plays. We just held onto the ball too long," said Graham. "We do not want our quarterback moving out, backing up or moving to the side against this team. Nothing good is going to happen when our quarterback is forced to do that. We have to give them credit for making it harder on us."
With time running out, the Sun Devil offense finally woke up, to a degree. ASU marched 61 yards in eight plays, including a 31-yard Kelly completion to Gary Chambers, that set up a 30-yard Gonzalez field goal to tie the game.
A 42-yard return by Kaelin Clay on the ensuing kickoff gave Utah hope of an answer, but ASU's run defense shut down Booker, forcing a punt.
"I hindsight we should have thrown a little bit more," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "Their DBs were doing a nice job of clubbing us up, up the field we didn’t have much separation, we couldn’t get much separation either.”
After moving inside Utah territory, a Nate Orchard sack of Kelly ended the threat.
ASU had one last chance in regulation after they got the ball back with six seconds left after a Utah punt. Mike Bercovici came into the game, hoping to replicate his hail mary success from the win over USC.
Instead, his pass was intercepted by Marcus Williams and the game went into overtime.
ASU won the coin toss and elected to go on defense.
Two Booker runs set up a third and three for Utah, but good pressure by the Sun Devils forced Wilson to throw the ball out of bounds. Phillips lined up for a 35-yard attempt, but his kick sailed wide right.
However, Whittingham had called his lone timeout just prior to the snap.
"The play clock was running out. I have no idea why we were late (in regards to the clock)," said Phillips. "I was just lining up, getting ready to kick then I heard all of the whistles."
Given a new lease on life, Phillips—one of the nation's top kickers—missed again, this time wide left.
"It was just a misjudgment on my part," Phillips said. "The wind was going right to left so I played the first one right, but coach had called the timeout. I thought that the wind didn’t push it too much so I would play the next one more to the left. The wind caught ahold of it and I should have gone with my instinct. It was just a misjudgment on my part.
"When it comes to field goal kicking it’s a game of inches and I put that one barely outside the upright."
Now it was ASU's turn, needing just a field goal to take control of the South.
“We’re just going to run our offense and take what the defense gives you," said Kelly of the offensive strategy in overtime. "Own the football. We’re in the redzone, so protect it. We have points. We have the best kicker in the nation.”
Three run plays set ASU up for Gonzalez's 36-yarder. Before the kick, Randall had some words for his kicker.
“I just said he was the best kicker in the nation and do what you do," Randall said.
Gonzalez did it.
"Zane is a big time kicker. I was just worried about the snap," said Graham. "I was not worried about Zane. He just has one of those personalities that gives you a lot of confidence in him. If he lines up right, he will make the field goal.
"After the game everyone may be talking about how Utah and the best kicker in the nation missed the field goal in overtime but I think the best kicker in the nation made the field goal tonight and that is Zane."
ASU's record on the year improved to 7-1 with a 5-1 mark in Pac-12 play. Next up is the much-hyped home showdown with N0. 10 Notre Dame.
"It is a game that the players are excited about," said Graham. "It is a game that all our fans are excited about. This is the type of game that coaches want to coach and players want to play in."
While all eyes will be on the Sun Devils and Fighting Irish next week, the non-conference game won't impact ASU's spot in the Pac-12 South.
For now and for at least the next two weeks, no one can touch the Sun Devils atop the division standings.