Five moments that sealed Arizona's fate against ASU
Wide Receiver Shawn Poindexter (19) reaches to catch a pass during the game against ASU on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Arizona Stadium. Arizona did not win the territorial cup and was defeated by ASU with a final score of 41-40.
If ASU’s Herm Edwards’ motto is “play to win the game,” then Kevin Sumlin and Arizona’s might sound like “play not to lose”.
A 19-point lead in the fourth quarter proved to be the point where Arizona seemingly decided they were content with the lead, letting the Sun Devils rally for a 41-40 win, keeping the Territorial Cup in Tempe.
Questionable play-calling by coaches and mistakes by UA players doomed the Wildcats and allowed the Sun Devils to celebrate wildly on Arizona’s turf.
Here’s what led to Arizona’s demise:
Missed two point conversions
We likely wouldn’t be having a conversation about Arizona’s fatal fourth-quarter collapse if the Wildcats decided not to go for a two-point conversion on two separate occasions.
The Wildcats missed both conversion attempts, losing two points by not kicking the PAT. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Wildcats lost by one point.
The first two-point conversion came inexplicably early in the game in the second quarter after Arizona went up 19-7 on a Khalil Tate to Shawn Poindexter touchdown. Tate rolled to his right but couldn’t find anyone open and was sacked.
Then, in the third quarter, Arizona went up by two possessions again, this time 33-21, and tried to have a 14-point lead. This attempt didn’t work in UA’s favor either, as Tate’s pass in the end zone fell incomplete.
Tate intercepted in the fourth quarter
Up 40-21 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wildcat coaching staff decided to go ultra-conservative on offense. Arizona called eight straight J.J. Taylor runs in the span of two possessions — with no rush over six yards — and the play in which Taylor didn’t touch the ball, Tate threw an interception in UA’s own territory.
ASU got the ball inside the Arizona 25-yard line, and while the Wildcat defense held the Sun Devils to a field goal, it brought the lead to just 40-35 in favor of Arizona.
Taylor has been the consistent cog in Arizona’s offense this season through good times and bad. But with 3:19 remaining and the ‘Cats up by five points, Taylor couldn’t cleanly handle a hand-off from Tate. The ball hit the turf with the Sun Devils pouncing on it first.
ASU capitalized on the very next play, as running back Eno Benjamin found an open lane in the Wildcat defense and burst to the end zone for a 22-yard score to put the Sun Devils up 41-40.
Last drive incompletions
Despite blowing a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter, Arizona still had a chance to win the game with three minutes remaining. On several different occasions, Tate had a chance to change the outcome.
An overthrow to Shun Brown and a dropped pass by Stanley Berryhill III are the two specific instances that come to mind, as both would have resulted in touchdowns.
Arizona kicker Josh Pollack lost his job as the primary field goal kicker to Lucas Havrisik early in the year but deserves credit for earning it back late in the year. The decision to return to Pollack paid off, as he was a perfect 4-4 on field goals against ASU until the final drive.
On a third down from the ASU 31-yard line — and after two different timeouts on the field — offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone dialed up a Taylor run up the middle instead of pressing for more yardage. Taylor got four yards, setting up a long field goal attempt for Pollack.
None of his previous four kicks on the day had been from over 40 yards, and he missed the potential game-winning kick wide right with 11 seconds remaining.
The 92nd installment of the Territorial Cup will no doubt go into the history books of each team, but for two completely different reasons.
For ASU, it put an exclamation mark on Edwards’ first year at the helm, in which the move to hire the former ESPN employee was heavily scrutinized. The Sun Devils finish the regular season at 7-5 with a bowl appearance looming.
As for Arizona, the “New Era” never lived up to the billing, as the Wildcats were inconsistent week-to-week and could never gather enough momentum to be considered a serious Pac-12 contender.
Sumlin has decisions to make regarding his coaching staff as Mazzone’s offense and Marcel Yates’ defense were under fire plenty of times this season.
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