December 7, 2008

ASU offense sputters in loss to rival Arizona

TUCSON -- Rudy Carpenter's attempt at improvisation contributed to Arizona State's second-half implosion in a 31-10 loss to rival Arizona in the Territorial Cup Saturday night.

Trailing 14-10 in the third-quarter, and with his team on his opponent's 31 yard-line, the senior quarterback found himself scrambling to find an open target.

He found one: UA defender Marquis Hundley.

Hundley, a senior cornerback, intercepted Carpenter's pass at the 19-yard-line and returned it 47 yards to the ASU 34-yard-line.

Arizona would subsequently score its second of three touchdowns in the quarter on the ensuing drive, pushing its lead to 21-10, effectively out of reach for ASU's inept offense.

The critical play of the game broke down for the Sun Devils when Carpenter realized the Wildcats had it well defended. Instead of throwing the ball away, he pressed to make something happen.

Senior receiver Mike Jones appeared to be coming across the middle, but as Carpenter began to throw the ball, Jones had already stopped and was drifting toward the sidelines.

And in that moment, the game itself was quickly drifting away from the Sun Devils.

"I thought Mike was going to keep going and he went outside and we just (had a ) miscommunication," Carpenter said.

Carpenter's thrown went directly to Hundley, and the Wildcats (7-5; 5-4 Pac-10) were able to secure their first win over ASU (5-7; 4-5) in four tries, a result which also prevented the Sun Devils from reaching what would have been a school record fifth consecutive bowl game.

Arizona will play in the Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 20, where it will likely face No. 10 Brigham Young.

"We have been so close to getting something going in a positive direction," fifth-year coach Mike Stoops said. "Every time we get there, we kind of stumble. This win is significant. … This has not been an easy journey, but I think we may be there."

The Sun Devils, meanwhile, were left shaken by the worst defeat in the series since a 30-6 loss in 1964, just a year removed from a rare 10-win regular season.

"I know we had to play extremely well to win this game, and we did in the first half," Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson said.

"But you can't play like we have offensively as of late and expect to win football games. You can't turn it over against a team like this. We just couldn't answer when they scored."

UA took a second half lead with a touchdown drive to open the third quarter after trailing 10-7 at intermission.

Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama hit tight end Rob Gronkowski on back-to-back passes to move the Wildcats to a first-and-goal situation, and Delashaun Dean caught a 10-yard pass from Tuitama to put the Wildcats in front.

Carpenter passed ASU into UA territory on the subsequent drive, and it appeared the Sun Devils would get a score of their own, but the quarterback's interception instead put the Wildcats in position for another score.

Four plays later, Nicolas Grigsby rushed for a 12-yard touchdown to make it a 21-10 game.

Arizona added an insurance touchdown soon thereafter to put the game all but out of reach.

Following an ASU three-and-out, in which Keegan Herring rushed for a loss on first and second down, Thomas Weber hit a low line drive punt that was fielded on a bounce by Mike Thomas, and returned 52 yards for the score.

At 28-10, the game had quickly gone from competitive to contemplative.

Arizona could begin looking ahead to its first bowl game in a decade.

Meanwhile, ASU could begin looking into examining what went so wrong less than a year removed from what appeared to be a break out season in Erickson's first at the school.

One thing appeared certain: Erickson said he wasn't planning on making staff changes, despite dealing with a fan base that has become increasingly frustrated with the Sun Devil offense, a group that gained just 162 yards Saturday.

"If I got rid of the guy that runs the offense, I'd have to get rid of myself," Erickson said. "That's not in my plans right at this moment."

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