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September 15, 2013

ASU escapes with narrow win over Badgers

The first thing Todd Graham said in the post-game press conference was, "Can I get a cocktail please? That was stressful."

Who could blame him?

As the final seconds ran off the clock with Wisconsin unable to get play off there was confusion and pandemonium on the field of Sun Devil Stadium.

Despite the controversy of last play, the end result remained that ASU won the game 32-30 and was able escape still undefeated with its goals for the season still intact.

The skinny of the last play was Wisconsin sophomore quarterback Joel Stave quickly took a knee and reset the ball, one or more ASU defenders later claimed to have thought it was a fumble, senior linebacker Anthony Jones fell on the ball with about 14 seconds remaining, and by the time the umpire got the ball from Jones and reset the ball, Wisconsin could not run another play and the Sun Devils had won.

"I've never seen anything like that in college football," senior cornerback Osahon Irabor said. "I definitely never played in a game like that. Luck was on our side. I'll take it. We'll take it any way way we can get it, sloppy, ugly, beautiful it doesn't matter. A win's a win. [We're] 2-0 and going on to the next one."

For most of the game, ASU was sloppy, ugly and not beautiful.

Early in the second quarter a bad snap by sohpomore Easton Wahlstrom went over junior punter Dom Vizzare's head and Wisconsin senior defensive end Beau Allen recovered the ball in the end zone to put Wisconsin up 14-3.

"We didn't play very good and still won," Graham said. "We snapped the ball over the punter's head and gave up a touchdown on that. So our special teams were really bad. I think we did a poor job there. But you know what, these guys showed something here tonight."

ASU did not take control of the game until the fourth quarter. All game long the offense was looking for some consistency and found it late in sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong.

With 13:21 left in the game ASU took the field down 24-19. On back to back plays junior quarterback Taylor Kelly hit Strong on a back shoulder fade route.

The two catches combined for 43 yards and led to 2-yard touchdown run by running back Marion Grice -- one of four on the night for the senior -- to put the Sun Devils up 25-24.

"We just saw man coverage pressed up back side and we took advantage of that," Kelly said. "That safety was tracing over. I just got to give this guy [Strong] a chance. I got to keep him in bounds, give him a chance and I know that he is going to make a big play for me."

On the drive offensive coordinator Mike Norvell called the same route repeatedly until the Wisconsin defense could stop it.

Graham does think he had some part in the play call.

"I'd pull on Norvell's shirt and say, 'Hey throw the fade. Hey throw the fade,'" Graham said. "So all the fades should be credited to coach Graham."

The drive gave the ASU offense some momentum.

The next time ASU got the ball it played with its best tempo of the game. ASU marched down the field quickly with a 6-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Grice.

In addition to scoring all of ASU's touchdowns, Grice had 84 yards on 22 carries and five receptions for 50 yards.

Coming into the game, among other determining factors, Graham and the players talked about how the team that ran the ball better would win.

To start the game Graham had to be content with the run defense. After the first half Wisconsin only had 78 total rushing yards and 101 total yards on 24 plays. Graham was very pleased with the way the team defended the run up the middle.

"It makes me mad to look at 231 yards rushing because that's not indicative of what tonight was," Graham said. "They've ran the power (play) for fifty years. They didn't run the power. They didn't come in and go two back and run the ball. They ran around us and I'm really proud of how our guys played."

But the Achilles heel for the defense was the jet sweep the Badgers ran to the outside.

In their first offensive play of the second half, Badgers sophomore running back Melvin Gordon took a hand-off to the outside for an 80-yard touchdown run.

"I was really, really frustrated that we gave up that fly sweep," Graham said. 'We actually walked through that in practice…We did a poor job as coaches adjusting to that. It took me a quarter and a half to get that made."

ASU made it hard on itself early because of poor execution.

On ASU's first offensive drive of the game it moved the ball all the way down to Wisconsin 11-yard line where junior tackle Tyler Sulka was called for a false start. The offense stalled after the penalty and turned the ball over on downs on the Wisconsin 3-yard line, with Graham choosing to go on fourth and goal.

The first drive was a microcosm for most of the game because more mental mistakes followed and it hurt the offense.

The biggest problem for the ASU offense early was dropped balls. Receivers had several dropped balls for what would have been large gains, with sophomore Richard Smith struggling the most. He had three clear-cut drops and didn't return to the game after the third one.

"That was inexcusable," Graham said. "That's just concentration…We didn't play even close to as good as we can play. We played hard. But we got a good football team because if you play like that and still win."

The Sun Devils also left some points on the field and tried to play catch up but instead compounded their situation.

On their first drive, the coaching staff decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal on the Wisconsin three yard line.

Early in the third quarter ASU was given a gift when freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton muffed a punt and ASU recovered on the Wisconsin 33. The very next play Kelly was pressured, made a poor read and threw an interception to senior safety Dezmen Southward.

At that point in the game ASU was down 21-13. When ASU score again the coaches decided on a two point conversion and missed.

Wisconsin added a field goal early in the fourth quarter. Then ASU responded with touchdown the coaches went for a two point conversion again and failed again.

Graham and the players know they cannot play like they did Saturday next week at No. 5 Stanford.

"We know what's ahead on our schedule," Irabor said. "We know what's coming up next week you know the Pac-12 champions. We definitely want to play better if we want to win that game. So got to really buckle it up, watch the film tomorrow, put this game behind us and get ready for the next opponent and just focus on ourselves and get better as a team. We definitely got to get better."



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