BERKELEY, Calif. – It was fitting Arizona State ended the regular season here late Saturday night, mostly because all of the Sun Devils’ flashes and flaws were on display. The sound rushing attack, the defensive lapses, the moving of the football, the repeated red-zone misses.
In the end, this was ASU football in 2015. A team that could put together a few strong quarters. A team that could make things interesting, but ultimately a team that comes up short in close games.
And so it unfolded here at Memorial Stadium, with ASU doing just enough to lose, watching California’s Matt Anderson kicking a 26-yard field goal in the final seconds, lifting the Golden Bears to a 48-46 win that snapped the Sun Devis’ two-game losing streak.
With the win, the Golden Bears improved to 7-5 and 4-5 in the Pac-12. ASU dropped to 6-6 and 4-5. The season isn’t over. The Sun Devils still will play in a lower-level bowl, but the loss assures coach Todd Graham of his worst season in Tempe. It also reminded fans of the team’s shortcomings.
“We figured out a way to lose every close game that we played in,” Graham said, the frustration clear in his voice.
ASU coughed up leads of 24-3 and 27-10 to a team that had lost five of six. In the second half, the defense couldn’t stop junior quarterback Jared Goff, who directed the Golden Bears to scores on their final five possessions. Overall, Goff passed for a school-record 542 yards, finding open receivers despite ASU’s pressure.
“Arizona State blitzes from every which way, and he got the ball out quickly,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Our offensive line played really well. That’s a good defensive football team and it’s tough to protect against those guys.”
The Sun Devils had entered tied with Penn State for the nation’s lead in quarterback sacks. They didn’t sack Goff once Saturday, but they kept attacking. Asked after the game if opponents have adjusted to his aggressive system in Year 4, Graham pointed out that ASU this season lost its starting safeties (sophomore Armand Perry and senior Jordan Simone) to injuries and had to rely mostly on inexperienced players.
“We would get beat 100-0 if we didn’t pressure,” he said. “Anybody that knows anything about football can look out there and see. It’s pretty challenging. We lost both our starting free safety and our bandit safety and we got some guys playing brand new positions. That’s who we are and what we’re about is pressuring. As long as I’m the head coach, that’s the way it’s going to be. They want somebody not to blitz, get somebody else.”
Overall, Cal totaled 680 yards against the Sun Devils, averaging 9.1 yards per play. Goff completed pass plays of 34, 29, 52, 52, 49, 58 and 49 yards.
“Mainly just a few miscommunications, guys just weren’t as focused,” senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington said.
“You can’t play defense like that and expect to win,” Graham said.
ASU’s offense moved the ball — finishing with 586 yards — but struggled punching the ball in the end zone. In nine red-zone trips, the Sun Devils produced only three touchdowns. Junior Zane Gonzalez bailed them out, hitting a school-record six field goals, but with the way Cal moved the ball, field goals weren’t enough.
“It’s not easy to get in the red zone,” senior quarterback Mike Bercovici said. “But at the end of the day, it’s on me as quarterback to make sure we get six points.”
Gonzalez’s sixth field goal — from 22 yards — gave ASU a 39-37 lead with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter. Cal came right back, Goff hitting Darius Powe with a 59-yard touchdown pass. Throw in the 2-point conversion and the Golden Bears led 45-39 with 6 minutes, 5 seconds to play.
The Sun Devils answered.
Senior quarterback Mike Bercovici hit senior receiver Devin Lucien for 42 yards. Two plays later, Bercovici rolled right and threw back to his left to sophomore tight end Raymond Epps, who ran in the end zone, giving ASU a 46-45 lead with 2:35 to play.
Goff – perhaps playing his last home game — took the field with confidence. ASU missed an opportunity for a sack,the quarterback bouncing away from junior linebacker Salamo Fiso and sophomore defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood to complete a 15-yard pass.
Six plays later, Anderson kicked the winning field goal.
“I figured I would get the chance, once (the offense) had the big play that got us down to the 5 with two minutes left,” he said.
Bercovici completed 27 of 43 for 395 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore running back Demario Richard rushed for 131 yards. Lucien caught eight passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
But it wasn’t enough.