In the the first year of the college-football playoff, UCLA’s wacko 62-27 victory Thursday night at Arizona State will likely resonate with the selection committee. That’s the nature of the beast this year — survive and advance.
But it likely won’t change a long-held perception of the Pac-12 in some precincts (the South, for instance) that the league is more about pitty-pat than smashmouth football.
The numbers were Star Wars-quality, but for devotees of rock-’em-sock-’em football, it was hardly a showcase.
Put that more on Arizona State and give credit to the Bruins. ASU was ridiculously porous defensively (just as I’m typing this, with UCLA ahead 55-27 in the fourth quarter, the Bruins’ Paul Perkins took a simple handoff up the middle for 81 yards), particularly in allowing yards after receptions.
The score flatters the Bruins, but I’m tempted to say there are still things we don’t know about UCLA — mostly whether it can grind out a long, 15-play drive when it needs to against a high-quality defense. Because ASU’s defense was so collapsible, it kept giving up preposterously long plays by UCLA.
Still, give it up for the Bruins, who next host Utah, trying to make sure they’re not looking ahead to an Oct. 11 date in Pasadena against second-ranked Oregon.
On this night, I thought there was some strange coaching strategy on both sides.
ASU’s Todd Graham has a habit of taking timeouts at odd times — he’s college-football’s answer to Ben Howland — and the Sun Devils celebrate the fact that those timeouts help them force three-and-outs. So Graham took his timeouts early in the first half, and when UCLA came back to take a 20-17 lead late in the half, ASU had none left as it was driving for an answering score.
For some reason, ASU called a quarterback draw for quarterback Mike Bercovici, which fizzled, and suddenly the Sun Devils were in hurry-up mode, spiking the ball to save seconds. Then Bercovici, in the position of not being able to have a play finish with the clock still running (which would deny a field-goal opportunity), fired a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Ishmael Adams and returned 95 yards for a killer touchdown just before the half, giving UCLA a 27-17 lead.
That’s a lot to put on a backup quarterback making his first start. Kick the field goal and go into the locker room with a 20-all tie.
Later, the Bruins were piling on long touchdowns with such ease that their offense was on the field only for short spurts. Looked to me like the UCLA defense was getting tired as ASU’s number of snaps grew to crazy levels. With a 21-point lead late in the third quarter, and the Sun Devils still a mild threat, the Bruins were clicking off snaps on offense at an ill-advised fast pace, not giving the defense a break.
Who knows? Maybe UCLA coach Jim Mora wanted to prove his defense had every bit the stamina as the ASU offense. Maybe he and coordinator Noel Mazzone wanted to work on their quick offensive tempo. Maybe there was method to their madness.
It all worked, but I’m not sure it was the most judicious way to manage the game. At any rate, it’s a 35-point win for the Bruins, and it’s going to convince some skeptics and keep them front-and-center in the national conversation.