Controversy aplenty, ASU takes the cup back to Tempe from Wildcats
With the ball on their own 45 yard-line and a 10-point lead, Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez played it conservative and it led to the Arizona Wildcats demise in a 42-30 loss to rival ASU on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. The next series of plays resulted in a failed hail mary attempt and more importantly shifted the tide in favor of the Sun Devils as Khalil Tate favored an arm that was previously injured after getting hit on the pass.
ASU would score 21 unanswered points and never look back.
Arizona was in control for the most part, able to use its’ running game to move ASU all over the field, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Tate also used his arm more in the first quarter than perhaps any time this season, guiding the ball to four different receivers for a total of 62 yards without an incompletion.
Defensively, the Wildcats were solid, able to contain ASU’s running game for the most part, limiting quarterback Manny Wilkins and company to just 35 yards rushing on 20 carries. Wilkins did exploit the UA secondary for 132 yards but also threw an interception which Arizona was able to capitalize on.
But the game’s controversy began with a minute to go in the half as Arizona fielded a punt at its’ 30 and was rewarded a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by ASU to start at their own 45. With 1:00 left on the clock and multiple timeouts in tow, Rodriguez chose to run the ball and drain the clock, opting to take timeouts on third and fourth down. It appeared Rodriguez may settle for a field goal, instead he chose to have Tate heave one into the end zone. Tate would take a hit and slowly get up, take a step after being helped up by a teammate, before stopping, bend over and play his right arm on his knee with his left arm dangling in obvious pain.
“No, he was hurt before that and it was a concern,” Rodriguez said. “Somehow in the first quarter, he nicked up his left shoulder (not his throwing shoulder). It affected him mentally and physically a little bit.”
Whether it was discomfort or mentally challenging, Tate would not start the second half and it was left to former starter Brandon Dawkins to salvage the Arizona offense. Dawkins would go three-and-out on his first possession with the ensuing punt blocked out of bounds at the Wildcat five. Next possession he’d throw an interception to Sun Devil defensive back Demonte King. Next drive, punt.
“I mean I didn’t really know, I am always ready to go in though,” Dawkins said. “No matter what happens, god forbid Khalil gets hurt or if they just want to try and switch it up. I am always ready to jump in, take the reigns and go full speed.”
Tate would come in to test out his arm again, but to no avail, visibly still in pain, lofting a ball fifty yards downfield as if his off arm was holding onto a 100-pound weight.
All three drives ended quickly and all three possessions following were touchdowns by ASU.
Dawkins would do his best to help Arizona recover, scoring from 50 yards out on a run. And it seemed the Wildcats had completed the comeback when wide receiver Shun Brown took a punt return all the way back for a score before getting called back on a controversial block in the back penalty.
"No, I didn’t think it was when I saw it live or on the replay," Rodriguez said when asked if he thought it should've been a penalty.
The Wildcats last gasp was with five minutes left and the Wildcats down 42-30, Dawkins wasn’t able to convert on a fourth-and-goal try which sealed the game for ASU.
The Wildcats, now 7-5 on the season await news as to what bowl game they will be selected to play in. Possible scenarios could have them in either the Sun Bowl or Las Vegas Bowl at this moment. For a team expected to finish dead-last in the Pac-12, not all is lost on this game.
“I enjoyed it, I thought we shocked a lot of people,” defensive back Lorenzo Burns said. “We were picked dead last in the whole pac (Pac-12), so I thought we did a great job of coming together and proving a lot of people wrong. I’m not happy with the result today, but with the overall season, I’m pretty happy with it.”
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