UCLA football loses matchup against Arizona State in 2nd straight home loss
No. 20 UCLA football was shut out in the third and fourth quarters of its loss to Arizona State on Saturday night. The Bruins entered the second half down by one point but gained 152 yards and scored zero points in the third and fourth quarters. (Kanishka Mehra/Daily Bruin senior staff)
|No. 20 UCLA||23|
By Jared Tay
Oct. 2, 2021 11:23 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 4 at 12:46 a.m.
Slow and steady was supposed to win the race.
But as true as the didactic morals from Aesop’s fables might be, this particular one didn’t come to fruition Saturday night.
In its second Pac-12 After Dark matchup of the season, No. 20 UCLA football (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) fell to Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) by a score of 42-23 at the Rose Bowl. While the Bruins ran 83 plays and held the ball for over 34 minutes – in comparison to 51 plays by the Sun Devils – they were outscored by an offense that scored the ball quickly and often.
By the final whistle, UCLA allowed 9 yards per play to Arizona State, while its own average yardage per snap was about half of the opponent – 5.2 yards.
The loss gives the Sun Devils sole possession of the Pac-12 South, but coach Chip Kelly said the Bruins’ focus isn’t on the current standings of their division.
“It’s really irrelevant right now in the first week of October,” Kelly said. “Every week’s a battle in this league, and you don’t really look at records, you don’t really talk about it.”
The 19-point loss was also the Bruins’ first double-digit demise since November 2019 when UCLA fell to California 28-18.
“It sucks,” said senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. “I wouldn’t say the point differential means anything – a loss is still a loss. But obviously, it sucks. It’s still a hit on the chin.”
UCLA was missing key members from its defense for much of the day, including senior safety Quentin Lake and redshirt junior safety Kenny Churchwell III.
In the absence of the two safeties, the Bruins gave up big yardage plays through the air, as five of the Sun Devils’ longest passing plays combined for 233 yards.
“We put our (defensive backs) in compromised positions,” said redshirt senior linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath. “When we pressure and send seven or we send eight, we have to get home.”
Beginning in the first half, Arizona State’s offense racked up 274 yards of total offense, mostly through the arm of its quarterback Jayden Daniels. All four of the Sun Devils’ scores – three touchdowns and a field goal – in the opening half took less than three minutes to complete.
“(Daniels is) different than some of the other kids we’ve played,” Kelly said. “Jayden’s obviously the most athletic kid we’ve faced so far this season in terms of being able to escape. If he does squirt loose, which he did a couple of times, he can hurt you.”
UCLA kept pace with the visitors throughout the first 30 minutes, yet it did so by holding the ball for nearly double the time of Arizona State. The Bruins ran exactly twice the number of plays but were held to 5.8 yards per play. The Sun Devils, in comparison, posted 12.5 yards per snap.
That flurry of scoring didn’t seem to stop in the opening moments of the second half.
In less than 90 seconds into the third quarter, the Sun Devils found the end zone again. After a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on senior linebacker Mitchell Agude put Arizona State at midfield, Sun Devil running back Rachaad White’s 49-yard rush up the far sideline scored his team’s fourth touchdown of the night. That score and an ensuing two-point conversion put the Bruins down by nine.
The Bruins’ longest drive came with 5:03 left in the third quarter. Like the tortoise from the beloved children’s story, UCLA worked its way down the field going 13 plays for 73 yards. But the Bruins turned the ball over on downs on the sustained drive, four yards away from Arizona State’s end zone.
On 3rd-and-two, Thompson-Robinson elected to keep the ball on an inside-zone option play, yet he was tackled before reaching the first-down sticks. Kelly elected to go for it on fourth down, and on a similar play, Thompson-Robinson again kept the ball and was tackled short of the first-down yardage.
“We got one of the best backs in the country,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Knowing the situation, I think I should’ve just handed the ball off.”
On Arizona State’s next drive early through the fourth quarter, Daniels and tight end Curtis Hodges linked up for another quick chunk play, this one going for 48 yards and putting the Sun Devils at the UCLA 48-yard line.
The Sun Devils slowed it down after that point, capping off an 11-play, 96-yard drive for a touchdown that put Arizona State up three possessions. The drive was Arizona State’s longest of the night, chewing almost seven minutes off the game clock.
Genmark Heath said Daniels’ athleticism made him hard to contain in the pocket, and the UCLA pass rush was unable to record a sack all night.
“There’s always that opportunity that he’ll take off at any moment and run for 20 yards,” Genmark Heath said. “I know that every single defense feels the same way when they play us, when they play Dorian. It adds another element to their game.”
With the chance to answer, the UCLA offense – which had posted 280 yards of offense in the first half – again turned the ball over on downs. The failed possession was more of the same for UCLA, which posted only 152 yards of total offense as it was shut out in the second half.
Kelly said the offense’s stagnation was caused by numerous penalties on the Bruins, many of them flags that cost them 10 to 15 yards. On the night, UCLA had eight penalties for 89 yards.
“(It’s) unacceptable,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to clear that up, and we talked about it briefly in the locker room after the game, and we have to learn how to play with emotion, not let emotion play with us.”
UCLA’s defense allowed 458 yards of total offense to the opposition, its second-worst defensive showing on the season.
“We’ll learn from this loss, from those mistakes,” Genmark Heath said. “I’m confident we’re going to go out next week and beat Arizona.”