PASADENA, Calif. — Keith Patterson was miffed at his defensive front. USC had run roughshod over the Arizona State defense, converting third downs at will, passing at will and running at will in a 42-14 victory on Sept. 26 at Sun Devil Stadium.
“When we get those one-on-one situations all the way across the board, somebody’s got to win,” the Sun Devils defensive coordinator said earlier this week.
It would be an understatement to say the Devils front did just that in a 38-23 win over No. 7 UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. ASU held 2014 Pac-12 rushing leader Paul Perkins to 63 yards on 18 carries to set the tone in a victory the Devils had to have to stay in the Pac-12 South Division race.
“I think we held their offense to like seven yards rushing in the first half,” ASU running back Kalen Ballage said with eyes wide. “That’s insane. This is college football. That’s big time. A big shout-out to our defense. Without them, of course we wouldn’t have been on the field making plays.”
Patterson normally watches the game from up in the booth where he can get a better look at formations and tendencies. But with the Devils needing a shot in the arm, he spent the game on the sidelines, calling plays in place of coach Todd Graham, who is really the defensive coordinator on this team.
“I thought coach Patterson was going to punch me in the face at halftime,” Graham said. “I was talking about everything we were doing wrong and he said ‘hey, they have seven yards rushing and we have five three-and-outs!’
“He punched the dry erase board and he was pretty animated so I shut up.”
UCLA entered the game as the nation’s 22nd-ranked rushing offense at 226 yards per game. The Bruins netted 62 on Saturday. Perkins came into the game with 514 yards on 82 carries for a gaudy 6.3-yard average. He averaged 3.5 against the Sun Devils.
“One of the things we’ve worked really hard on is trying to manage snaps,” Graham said. “We had 90 snaps offensively and I think 68 defensively. If we can keep it at that, I like our chances.”
Graham has believed all along that the Devils had a good defense this season. Games against run-heavy, triple option teams Cal Poly and New Mexico didn’t provide a good read and ASU had a complete meltdown against the Trojans.
But with linebackers Salamo Fiso and Laiu Moeakiola teaming with linemen Tashon Smallwood, JoJo Wicker and Demetrius Cherry, ASU’s front was the kind of force fans have come to expect from a Todd Graham coached team. So was Saturday’s unexpected win.
Last season, ASU lost 62-27 to UCLA in Week 4 at home, and then rebounded with a win at USC. The season before, the Sun Devils allowed 42 points in a Week-3 home loss to Stanford, then rallied for a win over the Trojans. Graham has this back-from-the-dead thing down to a science and it has thrust the Sun Devils right back into the thick of the Pac-12 South race.
“This program is an evolution,” Graham said. “Sometimes we want things to happen really fast and I know I do, but I’m really, really proud of how our guys came in here tonight and how they responded.”