Joel Stave thought he was doing the right thing.
Wisconsin was at the Arizona State 13-yard line with 18 seconds left to play in Saturday’s night game in Tempe. The Badgers trailed the Sun Devils 32-30 and Stave snapped the ball and prepared to kill the clock to set up a game-winning field goal.
Only he didn’t.
After taking the snap, Stave moved to his left and, after bumping into one of his lineman, he placed the ball delicately onto the field rather than spiking it. It should’ve been ruled a fumble. The officials marked the ball and signaled for the Badgers to wait.
Confusion ensued while the game clock continued to wind down and, before Wisconsin could gather its wits and set up another play, time expired and ASU escaped with a bizarre 32-30 win.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in college football, ever,” Arizona State cornerback Osahon Irabor said afterward.
The Sun Devils appeared to have a solid lead when running back Marion Grice scored his fourth touchdown to put his team ahead, 32-24, with 8:50 to play. But Wisconsin stormed back as Melvin Gordon scored his second touchdown with 3:53 to play to cap a 75-yard drive. ASU couldn’t kill the clock on its ensuing drive and Wisconsin got the ball back and stormed down the field thanks to a 51-yard pass from Stave to Jeff Duckworth. The game was set up for the Badgers to win.
Then Stave’s head-scratcher occurred.
It was a fitting capper to an entertaining game as both teams flashed signs of dominance and ineptitude throughout the contest. Wisconsin wasted a fine performance by Gordon, who rushed for 193 yards on just 15 carries. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly was 29 of 51 for 352 yards, with 104 of those yards coming via receiver Jaelen Strong’s six receptions.
It wasn’t a pretty way to win, but Arizona State will take it. The Sun Devils showed they have the firepower and the moxie to be legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 South title as they grabbed their first win over a ranked opponent since early 2011.
Wisconsin will be kicking itself for a while, but Big Ten play awaits. Gordon is going to be a handful for the conference and if the Badgers can get better play out of the quarterback spot, there’s no reason the Big Ten Leaders division shouldn’t be decided by a late-September tussle in Columbus.
For now, score one for the Pac-12 in the never-ending battle for conference supremacy.