Sun Devils surge past No. 20 UCLA to take top spot in South – The Arizona Republic

LOS ANGELES — The final seconds ticked off the clock at the Rose Bowl and the Arizona State Sun Devils strolled toward their exit, a gathering of their followers cheering loudly above the tunnel through which they exited.

Corner back Chase Lucas made his way over and greeted one spectator. Linebacker Darien Butler high-fived another. Quarterback Jayden Daniels exchanged a few words with some others.

The Sun Devils were indeed in a celebratory mood after disposing of the No. 20 Bruins 42-23, with a resilient defense pitching a shutout in the second half. The win boosts coach Herm Edwards’ team into sole possession of first place, although there are a lot of games still to be played.

ASU had lost the last two meetings with the Bruins, including the 2019 contest at the Rose Bowl in which the Sun Devils trailed at the half 28-7 and never recovered. That game has not been forgotten.

Like two years ago, the Sun Devils had a large number of players who hail from Southern California and welcomed the opportunity to show off in front of friends and family. This time the outcome was more to their liking.

“Last time we showed up in this place  it wasn’t a good outcome for us,” Edwards said. “I thought our emotions got the best of us. We talked about that all this week, about trying to keep ourselves calm, about coming home and not letting it influence you. Treat it like a business trip. I think the guys were dialed in.”

The Sun Devils (4-1, 2-0) didn’t play a perfect game but their performance was light-years better than ones they have managed to this point, especially considering the opponent and playing on the road.

Since the end of the 2020 season Edwards and offensive coordinator Zak Hill have both talked about getting more explosive plays out of the passing game. Well, they got plenty of those.

ASU managed 458 total yards with Daniels throwing for a season-high 286 yards. He was an efficient 13-for-18, highlighted by long scoring strikes of 65 and 54 yards to Ricky Pearsall, who finished with four catches for 132 yards on the night.

The UCLA defense came in ranked fifth in the nation against the run, allowing only 63 yards per game, but its secondary had been suspect and the Sun Devils were able to exploit that weakness.

“Coach (Zak) Hill did a great job of dialing it up, trusting in me, trusting in the receivers to make plays. It was up to us to execute and we did that,” said Daniels, playing 60 miles from his home in San Bernardino.

But the first long play of the night for ASU wasn’t a play that went for a touchdown. But Edwards thought it set the tone for things to come. ASU trailed 10-3 early in the second quarter and on the first play of the ensuing possession Daniels connected with Geordon Porter for a 47-yard gain.

That drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum, that tied the score 10-10.

“We hit some big explosion plays in the passing game and we talked about that in the game plan this week. I told them about (Geordon) Porter. He can run. It was nice to see him get involved, down the field. I thought  that got us going, got Jayden going.”

The Daniels to Pearsall connection then came up big on back-to-back possessions and gave the Sun Devils a lead they would not relinquish. The first strike of 65 yards came with 8:20 left in the half and tied the game at 17-17.

The second came on the following possession and went for 54 yards, giving the visitors a 24-20 lead.

They had come into the game boasting just one play of more than 40 yards in the previous four games.

“We emphasize those every day in practice and in the game plan as well,” Pearsall said. “We just went out there and did what we do in practice and performed and executed the plays. We’re never satisfied as an offense. this is just a glimpse of what we can do.”

UCLA coach Chip Kelly also singled out the big plays as back-breakers.

“I think that the X plays on the defensive side of the ball really hurt us, those two big long passes. We had some depth issues at safety today. They did a good job of exploiting that, of taking advantage of that. So you have to give them credit.”

There was a big play on the ground too and it came courtesy of Rachaad White, who has shouldered the load in the backfield the last three weeks with Trayanum out with a high ankle sprain. 

White broke free on a 49-yard run early in the third quarter, and Trayanum ran for a 2-point conversion for a 32-23 lead that held up.

While the long strikes proved the highlights of the night, they came with a down side because it meant the ASU defense was back on the field in quick fashion. Despite what turned out to be a lopsided score, UCLA ran off 83 plays while ASU had just 51 and time of possession favored the Bruins 34:42 to 25:18.

The defense was resilient though. Each time it looked like the Bruins (3-1, 1-1) had momentum in their favor the Sun Devils responded.

The start of the fourth quarter was evidence of that. On the final play of the third quarter an already shorthanded defense lost linebacker Kyle Soelle who drew a targeting call with the Bruins working their way toward the red zone.

Moments later UCLA worked the ball deep where it had a fourth-and-1 at the ASU 2. But true freshman Eric Gentry, a lanky 6-foot-6, 205-pounder made the stop for a 2-yard loss giving the Sun Devils the momentum for good.

The Sun Devils responded with a workmanlike drive of 11 plays that covered 96 yards, took 6:52 off the clock, giving ASU a 39-23 lead and  the defense a much-needed breather.

“It’s next man up mentality,” defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce said of his defense. “A lot of young guys stepped up and did a helluva job. They kept fighting. It wasn’t pretty at times but when it mattered most, in the red zone, we got our biggest stops. Just proud of them. You know, 83 plays is a lot.”

The Sun Devils were again without some key players on defense. Safety Evan Fields (undisclosed injury) did not even make the trip. Defensive end Tyler Johnson was questionable but did play. The defensive line was already without Jermayne Lole (triceps) and Travez Moore (knee) out for the season.

The Sun Devils return home next week for a Friday showdown against Stanford which upset No. 3 Oregon 31-24 in overtime.

Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@gannett.com or 602 444-4783.  Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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