“You play to win the game,” Arizona State’s head coach famously once said.
On Saturday night, Herm Edwards’ team did just that, upending No. 6 Oregon 31-28 and throwing the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff hopes back on thin ice in the process.
The Sun Devils simply came up with the big play whenever they needed to in front of their fired up crowd in Tempe, nearly doubling the Ducks’ in total yards, time of possession and red zone appearances. The final score would have looked even more impressive had they been able to covert a few more drives into touchdowns instead of field goals but nobody at ASU will think much of those drives as the fan base parties hard on Mill Avenue well into Sunday morning to celebrate the end result.
Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels came up big once again on the grand stage of a primetime game against a ranked opponent, waiting until the final minutes of the first half to throw his first incompletion and ending the night with 408 yards and a trio of beautiful touchdown throws.
Eno Benjamin paced the effort on the ground with 114 yards but it was the stud wide receivers who really made life difficult against a defense that had been one of the better units in the conference. Brandon Aiyuk was the big threat with 161 yards and the dagger of a touchdown from 81 out with just under four minutes left in the game. Frank Darby wasn’t too shabby either, needing just four receptions to net 125 yards and two scores.
Oregon’s offense, meanwhile, spent most of the evening stuck in neutral before a 21-point fourth quarter nearly salvaged the trip to warmer climates. QB Justin Herbert threw two awful interceptions to keep his team behind the eight ball but finished with a respectable 304 yards and two touchdown passes. Tailback Cyrus Habibi-Likio did punch it into the end zone twice from short yardage but otherwise it was CJ Verdell who led the team in rushing with 99 yards on 13 carries before the team was forced to go over the top with the passing game to rally.
Either way, the game was yet another reminder for the program that such trips to the desert of Arizona have been painful in recent years. The team was blown out in Tucson last season and lost by two in 2017’s visit to Tempe. They did notch a win back in 2015 over ASU but needed triple overtime to do so and came on the heels of another blowout loss to the Wildcats in 2013. Add in being on the wrong side in the BCS title game back in 2011 and the house of horrors the state has been continues unabated this past decade.
The most recent loss snaps Oregon’s nine game win streak in the process and assuredly knocks them from the ranks of the College Football Playoff chase. While they have clinched the Pac-12 North title even with the result, a trip to the Rose Bowl is the best that Mario Cristobal’s program can hope for in 2019.
That’s not at all a bad consolation prize of course but it’s also not quite where fans and players were hoping to end up at either as dreams of the final four went poof in the Phoenix area once again. You play to win the game after all and the Ducks didn’t do that at all against the one guy who has made it a habit to remind folks that is what football is about in the end.