Two plays to Marion Grice and the Devils had a first down, running the clock down to 2:36 before calling a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, D.J. Foster moved early, resulting in a false start. On the ensuing play, Taylor Kelly rolled out to his right and connected with Foster for a 21-yard gain, moving the ball to the ASU 47 for a first down.
On first down, Grice was tackled after a gain of two up the middle and made Wisconsin burn one of their two timeouts they had left – 1:54 left on the clock.
A questionable second down pass to tight end Chris Coyle on a roll out saw the ball fall incomplete, stopping the clock.
“In that situation, what I’m saying is, ‘they only have one timeout,’ we could have ran that thing down to 30 seconds, and that’s probably what we should have done,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham admitted. “On the same hand we are not going to play the game not to lose. I’m not going to call the game for coach Norvell, he’s one of the best I’ve ever been around. If coach Graham was calling the plays, they would have been booing, I would have been in the two tight end I [formation] running the ball trying to run the clock out. But we weren’t going to get the clock out, we needed first downs.”
Following the incompletion, Taylor Kelly looked to pass, but tucked the ball and rushed to his right for no gain, staying in bounds and forcing Wisconsin to burn their final timeout with 1:44 left on the clock.
A Dom Vizzare punt forces a fair catch at the 17-yard line from Wisconsin return man, Kenzel Doe.
Wisconsin started their drive with 1:36 to go. On first down, Badger quarterback Joel Stave threw an incomplete pass intended for Jared Abbrederis and on the play there was a holding call at the line of scrimmage, which Graham decided to decline making it second and 10. Graham said that he’d rather have second down and 10 than for Wisconsin to replay first down.
A six-yard completion on second down from Stave to Jordan Fredrick made it third down and four. On the ensuing play, Stave connected with tight end Jeff Duckworth on a back-shoulder pass, he broke a tackle from Robert Nelson and took the ball 51 yards to the Sun Devil 26, ultimately in field goal range.
Wisconsin then took three plays to move the ball 13 more yards to the Arizona State 13-yard line, leaving 18 seconds left on the clock and a new set of downs.
With no timeouts left, Stave took the snap on first down, ran to the middle of the field, and took a knee, at least that’s what the referees saw. Stave set the ball down awkwardly, causing the Arizona State players to think it was a fumble and linebacker Anthony Jones fell on it. Amidst the confusion, the clock is still running and by the time Jones gets off (with the ref nonchalantly telling him to get up), the referee sets the ball with less than five seconds left. Stave isn’t able to spike the ball, the time runs out and the Devils were able to sneak away with the win 32-30.
“He (Stave) put the ball on the ground, you can’t do that,” Graham said. “It’s tough to plan for all of those things. I’m really proud of our players; I’ve seen some things tonight that I haven’t seen. But we have to do a better job coaching.”
The final four minutes were strewn with bad clock-management by both teams. Graham was disappointed in himself as well as his coaching staff, but at the end of it all, he’s happy to come away with a win.
“We didn’t play very good and still won,” Graham said. “We snapped the ball over the punter’s head, and gave up a touchdown on that. So our special teams were really bad, I think we did a poor job there. But you know what these guys showed something tonight.”
Arizona State’s defense faired well in the first half, allowing just over 100 yards of total offense to Wisconsin. The second half was a different story. On the very first play, sophomore running back Melvin Gordon took a fly sweep around the left edge for 80 yards and a score.
“I was really frustrated that we gave up that fly sweep, we actually walked through that at practice,” Graham said. “We were putting some stress on the secondary obviously, but we did a poor job as coaches, myself, adjusting to that. It took me a quarter and a half to get that [correction] made.”
Wisconsin went on to gain a total of 231 yards rushing on the night, and while that may sound like a lot, Graham thought his team played better than what the stats showed.
“It makes me mad to look at 231 yards rushing because that’s not indicative of what tonight was,” Graham said. “They’ve ran the power for 50 years, and they didn’t run power. They didn’t come in two-back and run the ball. They ran around us. I’m really proud of how our guys played. I think they had five first downs in the first half, 10 in the second, 15 total first downs.
“Nothing that they did we didn’t plan for, but they had some great formational stuff. My hats off to their offensive staff, they did a great job with formations to kind of try to take us out of some things. I thought that we controlled the line of scrimmage; we just gave up a couple of big plays in the run game on the fly sweep.”
Stave looked uncomfortable in the pocket for a majority of the game on Saturday, and it showed in his final stat line: 15-30 for 187 yards. While, the Devils on recorded one sack (Osahon Irabor), guys like Sutton, Carl Bradford and Jackson Hood were in Stave’s face in passing situations and disrupting throwing lanes.
“I just love this, I mean it’s fun,” Graham said. “I love these kids. Will Sutton, there are not very many 310-pound guys that can play every snap of the game the way he plays. Those guys up front are impressive.
“Irabor was lights out. We are sending him on boundary pressure, a lot, and he’s going in there against 350-pound guys, and getting after it.”
On offense, the Sun Devils weren’t able to capitalize on many opportunities given to them throughout the game. Drops were a problem in the first half and failed two-point conversions that almost cost ASU the game. But the game wasn’t without bright spots.
Marion Grice had four rushing touchdowns on the night, marking his touchdown count at 25 in just 14 games for the Devils.
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong keeps improving in this offensive scheme. The Devils had a matchup that they liked with Strong one on one on the outside, and they exploited it plenty of times. On the drive that put the Devils ahead in the fourth quarter, Kelly connected with Strong twice on back shoulder throws, setting up a Grice touchdown.
“Jaelen Strong, wow, that was a great signee there,” Graham said with a smirk on is face. “I’m pretty excited about that one. He’ll make a good coach out of you.”
Arizona State somehow snuck away with a victory against Wisconsin, and game one of the “gauntlet” is in the books. The third game doesn’t get any easier as the Devils travel to Palo Alto to take on No. 5 Stanford.
“Our deal was is we looked forward to this schedule and we have just talked about just focusing and winning the next game,” Graham said. “We knew that we had to face the defending Big-10 champion in week two and we can check that one off our list. Now comes the PAC-12 champion and is that more important, darn right it is. It is ten times more important. The next two games are both conference games and obviously they are very, very critical to our success and none more than Stanford. I want to really call to all our fans: I need you to pack up get on the road and go to Stanford. We need your help there this is going to be the biggest game of the year for us.”