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November 1, 2009

Bittersweet effort from ASU defense in loss

Scoring touchdowns on two of its first three possessions it appeared Cal would continue its ability to seemingly score at will Saturday against Arizona State. Coming into the game the Bears ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 with 35.1 points per game, but they finished well below their average with just nine additional points following the early 14-0 start.

Clinging to a 21-20 lead, the ASU defense was put the its biggest test of the game with a little over three minutes remaining. With the game on the line, the Bears needed any sort of score with just one possession remaining in order to steal a victory Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.

Starting on their 19 yard line, the Bears used just about every second on the clock putting together an impressive drive to quiet the homecoming crowd. Cal marched 74 yards in 11 plays, to ensure there would be no last second heroics for the hometown team on Saturday in Tempe.

As the winning kick sailed 24 yards through the uprights off the foot of sporadic Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, the chance for a post season bowl berth for the Sun Devils became more tenuous. With an unforgiving remaining schedule the Sun Devils have to win two of four remaining games to become bowl eligible.

Three of the last four games will be played against nationally ranked opponents, including home versus USC Saturday and at Oregon a week later, both of which were ranked in the most recent national poll.

As the drive began it seemed almost inevitable Cal would push into field goal range as it swiftly and easily moved the ball down the field on an ASU defense that had been able to contain the Bears since the first quarter.

On its first down in ASU territory, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley threw a pass into traffic which fell incomplete. Upon the incompletion contact was made between the receiver and defender. Penalty markers were thrown which almost certainly seemed like some sort of pass interference call, however Cal wide receiver Marvin Jones was called for a 15-yard facemask backing the Bears up to their 40 yard line with time ticking away.

From then on Riley hit different receivers on three consecutive plays resulting in three straight first downs.

Cal then wound the clock down to 24 seconds to attempt and then hit the game winning field goal.

"With three minutes left they had to go 70-80 yards and as a defense you obviously want that situation," linebacker Mike Nixon said. "It [was on] us to win the game and I really feel as a defense we let this team down today."

The final defensive sequence notwithstanding, the ASU defense played rather well after an awful outing last week against Stanford. Stanford rushed for 237 yards but the Sun Devils did an excellent job containing Cal's dangerous rushing attack led by speedsters Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. An offense that averages 216 rushing yards a game was held to just 57 yards Saturday.

ASU also forced four fumbles and put constant pressure on the quarterback, sacking him three times.

Youth movement

With senior running back Dimitri Nance held out of the game after ASU's first series due to injury, it was time for the younger backs to get an opportunity to carry the load. After being very vocal in regards to playing time all season, sophomore Ryan Bass was the first to be called upon and was given the majority of the carries in the first quarter.

Bass had his first opportunity to shine in the red zone early in the second quarter after he had managed to put up just nine total rushing yards in the first quarter. On the two yard line Bass coughed up the football resulting in a turnover and no points for a drive that went for seven plays covering 60 yards.

Unfortunately for Bass, this was his second lost fumble of the season in limited playing time and from that point on, he didn't see the field again.

Freshman Cameron Marshall came in to replace Bass and jump started the ASU rushing attack against a defense that ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing defense. Bringing his power running style Marshall finished the day with 16 carries for 71 yards including a six yard touchdown run.

"Bass came in and ran OK but fumbled once so we decided to go with Cameron," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "I thought [Cameron] played very well as a young kid. He made some very good runs and is a tough runner. He is going to get better and better every time."

Passing Through

Quarterback Danny Sullivan had the longest pass play from scrimmage since the 2004 season. It was in that season Andrew Walter threw a 79 yard bomb to Derek Hagan against UCLA.

Saturday Sullivan connected with wide receiver Kyle Williams on an 80 yard touchdown throw.

This was Sullivan's lone touchdown pass on the day and he finished the game with 244 yards passing, completing more than 50 percent of his passes.

Penalty problems

-After Saturday's game, the Sun Devils officially rank last in the nation in penalty yards, surpassing Texas Tech. On the season the Sun Devils have 714 total penalty yards after they committed 11 penalties for 123 yards Saturday against Cal.

"You just try and figure them out," Erickson said. "There are some we have in the game itself and we can deal with those. There are ones that are ridiculous and stupid. We talk [to our players] about it and pretty soon it's going to boil down to if you do it you don't play if it's a dumb [penalty]. The ones that make me furious are the [penalties] that are uncalled for."


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