TEMPE, Ariz. –
One team took advantage of its opportunities, and the other didn’t.
Early in the third quarter, graduate transfer quarterback Wilton Speight’s pass intended for redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and defensive back Chase Lucas intercepted the pass.
It was the third time UCLA had the ball inside Arizona State’s 30-yard line and came out empty-handed.
Those empty trips came back to haunt the Bruins (2-8, 2-5 Pac-12) in their 31-28 loss to the Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday in Tempe, Arizona.
“We had the look we wanted,” Speight said. “It went off their defensive end’s hands and the corner made just an incredible catch, he caught it off his fingertips off his own shoelace.”
The other failures also occurred with UCLA tantalizingly close to scoring.
Early in the second quarter, Kelley didn’t make it back to the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-1 from the 14-yard line. On the next possession, junior kicker JJ Molson’s 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, ending another promising Bruin drive.
“The fourth down hurt,” said coach Chip Kelly. “We had it right down in their (territory) and our guard fell down. We have blocked up well, it’s 1 yard and I think you can set the tone right now, but we have to stay on our feet in that situation.”
The Sun Devils scored immediately following both the fourth down stop and the interception. Sophomore cornerback Darnay Holmes intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown two plays after the missed field goal, but Arizona State pulled off a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the next possession.
UCLA held running back Eno Benjamin to only 51 rushing yards on 14 carries in the first half, but Benjamin exploded for 131 yards on 20 carries after halftime.
“We didn’t tackle him,” Kelly said. “Too many times where the (first) contact is 6, 7, 8 yards down the field. I mean, we’ve got to do a better job and we’ve got to get that figured out or everybody else is going to do it to us.”
Standout wide receiver N’Keal Harry also broke the century mark against the Bruins, catching seven passes for 100 yards.
“He’s a great guy who’s going to do great things at the next level,” said Holmes, who fought through Harry to intercept the pass he returned for a touchdown.
Aside from a missed field goal, UCLA was unable to stop Arizona State’s offense in the second half until its last drive. Given the Bruins’ inability to capitalize on their scoring opportunities, their offense, led by Speight, couldn’t keep up.
Down two scores with less than four minutes remaining, UCLA traversed 75 yards in nine plays and scored a touchdown to cut the deficit to 3 points.
After holding the Sun Devils to a three-and-out, the Bruins got the ball back with 93 seconds left, but moved backwards after back-to-back false start penalties. By rule, the penalties also burned more than 20 seconds off the clock in the final minute.
Speight finished with 335 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 26-of-35 passing. His top target was redshirt junior tight end Caleb Wilson, who tore up the Sun Devil defense for 11 catches, 164 yards and two touchdowns.
“Wilton was out there making some really good throws, the offensive line was protecting but it wasn’t anything special,” Wilson said. “We’ve been doing it all year, just things sometimes work out and today was one of those days where I was able to make some plays.”
Wilson’s big day came at the expense of Kelley, who struggled to find holes against the swarming Arizona State defense. His longest carry of the day was 12 yards and he finished with 79 yards on 21 carries.
Kelley did score a touchdown in his sixth straight game, adding a 2-yard score on UCLA’s first drive. It was only the second time the Bruins scored on their opening possession this season.
“If we’re going to hurt ourselves, we’re not going to win football games in this conference,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to execute and they executed better than we executed.”