Sun Devils fall to .500 after 44-37 loss at UCLA

PASADENA–The UCLA Bruins continue their unbeaten streak at the Rose Bowl this season with a 44-37 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday.

Well before the coin toss, the UCLA fan base’s dissatisfaction towards Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr. was displayed by way of two planes flying banners over the Rose Bowl. One detailing the Bruins failure to win the conference championship over the last 16 years and another one decrying “No More Mora.”

Mora acknowledged his awareness of the banners but took it in stride, saying, “Its great to have passionate fans.”

Other Bruins players were also aware of the banners and said it motivated them. Quarterback Josh Rosen, however, wasn’t pleased with the banners and especially took exception at the wasteful spending that went into flying the banners in the first place.

“I thought it was absurd,” Rosen said. “Some parents of kids on our team don’t make $30,000 a year. To put that in a banner is absurd. I mean Coach Mora went and climbed Kilimanjaro to raise money to dig wells for people in Africa for clean water, and I think one well might have been $20,000 or something like that. It’s just absurd. It’s disrespectful. It’s disgusting.”

Rosen turned in another impressive performance against the Sun Devils, completing 25-of-45 for 381 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. The junior has thrown for a touchdown pass in 26 of his last 28 games and has also moved into third place in UCLA history in passing yards with 8,677.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said Rosen is the best quarterback his team has faced. The defensive-minded coach takes pride in his front seven getting into the backfield but against Rosen, that was only half the battle.

“We got in there,” Graham said. “He was hard to sack. I thought we had him four or five times.”

The Bruins marched into the red zone on their first offensive possession of the game but they had nothing to show for it after a 36 yard field goal attempt by JJ Molson went wide right.

A 22-yard run by Demario Richards set up Arizona State’s first touchdown of the game, a seven yard pass from quarterback Manny Wilkins to receiver N’Keal Harry.

The Sun Devils weren’t done scoring in the first quarter. A 16-yard run and 13 yard reception by Harry helped ASU march down the field and score on a 2-yard run by Richards to go up 14-0.

With their offense struggling, it was the defense that got the Bruins on the board at the tail end of the first quarter Wilkins’ pass was tipped by UCLA defensive end Marcus Moore and intercepted by defensive back Nate Meadors, who returned it 22 yards for the touchdown, cutting the Sun Devils lead in half, 14-7.

Both coaches agreed that that play changed the flow of the game.

“Completely changed the game,” Graham said. “That can’t happen.
It was very, very poor.”

“I think we were down 14-0,” Mora said. “We had given up an interception. They tried to run a screen and Marcus Moore got his hands up and tipped it and Nate got it and got it into the end zone. When you can score on defense, statistically, it really improves your chances of winning.”

The Bruins tied the game 14-14 on a quarterback sneak on the goal line by Rosen that was set up by a 30-yard reverse run by Christian Pabico and a 23-yard reception by Bolu Olorunfunmi.

The Sun Devils quickly retook the lead 21-14 on a 16-yard run down the middle by Wilkins, which included a Super Mario like leap over the UCLA defenders.

A 59-yard pass from Rosen to Jordan Lasley got the Bruins in the red zone but only came away with a field goal. The Bruins were in a similar position later in the second quarter but the offense was sabotaged by three straight incompletions by three different receivers and once again had to settle for a field goal to make it a 21-20 game.

Arizona State had a chance to lead by four point going into halftime but missed the last second field goal. The Sun Devils rushed for 203 yards in the first half, with Richards leading the way with 83.

Wilkins threw for only 53 yards and a touchdown in 13 pass attempts in the first half. The Sun Devils switched to a more pass-heavy offense in the third quarter and Wilkins went into the fourth quarter with 205 passing yards.

Wilkins finished the game 21-of-37 passing for 290 yards, one touchdown in the air and one more on the ground.

The Sun Devils had to throw more in order to catch up with the Bruins early in the third quarter. UCLA took its first lead of the night with a 21-yard run by Soso Jamabo to go up 27-21.

Once on the other side of the scoreboard, Mora knew his team could take advantage of the Sun Devils’ lack of balance.

“They ran it 38 or 39 times in the first half, so their average per carry wasn’t outlandish,” Mora said. “It want great. We got the lead, and they had to throw a little bit more. But teams are committing to running the ball on us, so they’re going to get some yards, but when we can get a lead and make them throw it, we can get some sacks and get some plays made on the ball, and that’s what happened tonight.”

After an Arizona State field goal, UCLA added another touchdown to the lead after Olorunfunmi ripped off a 56-yard rush to flip the field and then scored on a two-yard rush into the end zone to give the Bruins a 34-24 lead.

Another Arizona state field goal cut the UCLA lead to 34-27. The Sun Devils tied the game on a block punt that Eno Benjamin returned nine yards into the end zone.

Like in the third quarter, the Bruins jumped on the Sun Devils early in the fourth quarter with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Rosen to Lasley. The Bruins later tacked on another field goal to go up 44-34.

Lasley finished the game with 162 yards on seven receptions. Considering that senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is out for the remainder of the season with an injury, his production was crucial to the Bruins.

“He’s a guy that we need,” Mora said. “Without Caleb Wilson and Darren Andrews, we have lost a lot of yards. We lost a lot of yards that was sitting on the bench in casts and knee braces, so to have Jordan come back with the great attitude that he did and play the way he did, it makes you feel really good.”

“He’s explosive,” Rosen said on Lasley. “He’s a great personality in the locker room. He’s motivating. It was good to have him.”

After a well placed punt by UCLA, the Sun Devils went the full field to kick a field goal to go within a touchdown to tie it. The Sun Devils failed to recover the onside kick and the Bruins quickly went into victory formation.

Richards and Ballage each eclipsed the 100-yard benchmark and the Sun Devils were six yards shy of 300 as a team.

Graham wishes he ran the ball more.

“You know, we ran the ball,” Graham said. “We should’ve run the ball into the end zone every time we got into the red zone. We got behind the count and try to throw the ball and then kick field goals.

“The difference is you have to score touchdowns,” he said. ” you can’t kick field goals.”

With the loss, the Sun Devils once again find themselves in another November desperate to get that elusive sixth win. Fortunately for them, Oregon State is next on their schedule and the Beavers have yet to win a conference game this season.

UCLA will also have to win one of their next two games in order to return to the bowls. The Bruins renew their in-city rivalry with USC next week.

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