Big plays on offense lift Arizona State over Bruins
October 7, 2021
Old habits are hard to change and for the UCLA Bruins defense, they just never seem to go away. Last Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the underdog Arizona State Sun Devils came in and routed the 20th ranked UCLA Bruins, 42-23. The loss dropped the Bruins to 3-2 for the season. The Sun Devils improved to 4-1.
For the Bruins, it was their second upset loss at home this season. In both games, big plays allowed by the defense were the reason for the losses. The Bruins defensive secondary again gave up big plays in the passing game. Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels completed 13 of 18 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. For Daniels, it was the most yardage he has thrown for since 2019, when he threw for 408 yards in a victory over Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks.
Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall caught four passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. For Pearsall, it was a career game. His first game with over 100 yards receiving and his first two touchdown receiving performance of his college career.
The numbers tell the story with the Bruin pass defense. The Bruins are ranked 128th out of 130 FBS football teams in passing yardage allowed per game, with an average of 321.4 yards allowed per game. They are ranked 120th in yards per completion, allowing 12.86 yards per completion.
With the score tied at 3-3, the Bruins took a 10-3 lead on a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to wide receiver Kyle Phillips. The Sun Devils answered quickly on a six-yard touchdown by running back DeaMonte Trayanum, to the tie the score at 10-10. The touchdown was set-up by a 47-yard pass completion from Daniels to wide receiver Geordon Porter.
The Bruins took a 17-10 lead on their next offensive possession with a one-yard scoring run from running back Brittain Brown. The Sun Devils came right back to tie the game at 17-17 on a Daniels 65-yard touchdown pass to Pearsall. After a long drive and field goal gave the Bruins a 20-17 lead, the Sun Devils came right back. It took about a minute for the Sun Devils to take the lead back, with Daniels connecting with Pearsall for a 54-yard touchdown pass. ASU led 24-20 and the game was still in the second quarter.
A fumbled punt set-up a Bruin field goal before halftime, cutting the lead to 24-23 at the half. In the second half, it was all Arizona State. The Sun Devils started with a 49-yard touchdown run by running back Rachaad White and a two-point conversion to take a 32-23 lead. Following a goal line defensive stand by the Sun Devils, a pass completion from the four-yard line of 48 yards to tight end Curtis Hodges set up a 96-yard scoring drive, which culminated in a one-yard touchdown run from White, giving the Sun Devils a 39-23 lead.
The inability to stop giving up big plays on defense seemed to demoralize the home crowd and the team. There was no reason to believe that the Bruin defense could get a stop to help the Bruin offense. The Sun Devils had five big plays on offense of 47 yards or more that either directly or indirectly led to all five Sun Devil offensive touchdowns.
Bruin Head Coach Chip Kelly was generous, giving the credit to the Daniels and the offense: "They did a good job. You've got to give them credit, first and foremost, and Jayden [Daniels] is obviously the most athletic kid who we've faced so far this season, in terms of being able to escape. We try and be conscious of our rush lanes, because if he does squirt loose, he could hurt you. Give them credit. Their line played really well. They did a really good job of protecting Jayden. When things did break down, we did a good job of getting after him, and he made some plays with his feet."
When asked about the big plays allowed on defense, Kelly's response was understandable given injuries at safety, but not acceptable to Bruin fans: "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."
Kelly added that, "It's a combination of both. You've got to be tighter in our coverage and you have to generate a better pass rush so that the quarterback doesn't push the ball down the field like that. We've got to shore up our safety position right now."
For Bruin fans, tightening up coverages and safety issues are on-going issues with the Bruins defense. Last season, the defense was unable to hold onto an 18-point lead third quarter lead against USC, losing the game 43-38 in the last few seconds. In the last game of the 2020 season against Stanford, the Bruins blew a 14-point lead in the last three minutes of the game, losing 48-47 in double overtime.
The Bruins offense is exciting and productive. The offense alone is good enough to get the Bruins to six wins and a bowl berth. If the defense could solve their pass defense issues, this could still be a very successful season. The Bruins can start this Saturday, October 9th, when they travel to Tucson to tangle with the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats are 0-4 for the season, but it is never easy to win in Tucson. The game will start at 7:30 PM and will be televised on ESPN.