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November 10, 2013

Dramatic fourth quarter rally leads ASU to victory

SALT LAKE CITY -- Will Sutton was downright giddy.

Sitting in the small interview room just off the playing surface at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Sutton beamed about his game clinching interception. He laughed about his teammates' reactions, was enthusiastic about their big plays and thrilled about their response to adversity.

But most of all Sutton was dizzy with glee over something so ordinary it probably wouldn't even rate a mention by most observers of Arizona State's 20-19 come-from-behind win over Utah Saturday in front of the 24th straight sellout here.

ASU's All-American senior defensive tackle was beyond proud of his team's no glitz defensive effort that forced Utah into five straight three-and-outs - or better - through the game's later stages.

"We just stayed home," Sutton said. "They really forced us to just stay home and play at home defense and I'm just so happy about this win man. We just played smart, disciplined football. Everybody knows us as an attack defense, we bring pressure. We did that today but we played a lot of straight up, stay home disciplined defense and we really proved that today."

After the win, a loud crashing sound could be heard emanating from the Sun Devil locker room as media awaited player and coach reaction, but nothing was overturned or thrown to the floor in frustration.

Instead, it was the sound of their maroon and gold handled hammer breaking the rock as is customary following each win. And this one was big, improving ASU to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in Pac-12 play, keeping it a game ahead of UCLA and USC, teams that also won on Saturday.

The Sun Devil offense, averaging a remarkable 46.6 points through eight games and having scored 50-plus points in three straight leading into Saturday, was stuck on seven points for so long - 43 minutes of actual game time - you might have thought the scoreboard was broken if you didn't know any better.

Trailing 19-7 going into the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils were doing a fine job defensively but couldn't put points on the board until a 6-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that ended with one of junior quarterback Taylor Kelly's two touchdown scampers found paydirt injected some energy, and confidence.

Senior running back Marion Grice had two 10-yard runs on the drive and Kelly found sophomore receiver Richard Smith for an 11-yard reception and senior tight end Chris Coyle for a 22-yard grab on the drive as ASU inched to within a touchdown.

The next five series resulted in punts including three by the home team, which went three-and-out all three possessions, and the Sun Devils mounted their game winning, 6-play, 81-yard drive starting with 4:31 remaining on the clock.

They never faced a third down.

Grice had 38 of his 136 rushing yards on the day on ASU's longest play from scrimmage, Kelly scampered for 13 yards of his own and then hit Smith for a touchdown in which he untangled himself from a Ute defender before slipping into the end zone, an escape that proved metaphoric to the ASU win.

"I told him last game and this game that he was going to have a big game, a big catch some time in the game," Kelly said of Smith, who had two big catches the previous week after struggling with drops earlier in the year. "I just had a weird feeling and I tell him keep grinding, keep focused on every route, your block. He did that and came up with some big plays."

On the first play of Utah's next possession, senior defensive tackle Davon Coleman pressured Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, who completed just six passes all game, into his first of two interceptions when senior ASU cornerback Robert Nelson made a spectacular leaping grab.

Utah got the ball back again, this time with 1:20 remaining and no timeouts from its 20-yard line, but Wilson tried an ill-advised throw to a covered receiver on a shallow cross and Sutton reached his hands up, no more than four yards away, and snared it, and the win.

"I was trying to pass rush, I got doubled, the quarterback's been scrambling all day, I just kind of fell back he was looking the other way, I just kind of jerked it over there, put my hands up and the ball just ended up in my hands," Sutton said. "Everybody was more excited than me. I was trying to catch my breath. Everyone was hitting me in the head I couldn't catch my breath. But I just came back to the sidelines with a giant smile on my face knowing that we sealed the deal, we got away."

Sutton had a career-high nine tackles for the Sun Devils and senior linebacker Chris Young had a career-best 14 as Utah relentlessly pounded the run between the tackles, unable to get anything going in the passing game other than two long completions to star receiver Dres Anderson and some early read option keepers by Wilson.

Utah's defense and special teams were stellar though, as ASU struggled to protect Kelly and gave up six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, fourth most all time by the Utes, and Utah's punter Tom Hackett had a 70-yard boot and 50.6 yard average, and its field goal kicker Andy Phillips converted from 51 and 43 yards.

"We weren't going to quit," Kelly said. "One we started getting rolling, started getting first downs, more first downs, (quick) tempo, our guys are hard to stop once we get things rolling and Utah, they played a great job defensively, scheming what we were doing, give them props for tonight.

"They were bringing different pressures and showing different looks and they weren't showing them until the very end, like right when we'd snap the ball. Once we started figuring that out and getting things rolling, Marion started busting some nice runs up the middle and it just takes time."

ASU almost ran out of time but its coach Todd Graham said the team didn't show any panic when Utah came out and showed a lot of schematic stuff it hadn't prepared for.

"Very few times does our team go out there and the other team does things you haven't seen before," Graham said. "That happened for the first time tonight. But our guys didn't panic. They had some adjustments that causes us some problems early on.

"The key was getting the run stuffed. Once they get the run stuffed unless they catch one over the top or something like that, our guys are playing pretty good defense right now."

Nelson and senior cornerback Osahon Irabor were stars but mostly in silence. Irabor had six tackles but mostly locked up his side of the field in a way that prevented Utah from expanding its offense. Other than a slip in coverage, he gave up virtually nothing. Nelson was beaten on a post route for 55 yards but that was it.

"Phenomenal job," Graham said. "Osahon Irabor plays matched up almost every play and he'll make a living at it. He's a tremendous, tremendous cover corner and loves to press. They got us on one. Tres Anderson is a really good player and he beat us on a post. Those guys are isolated an awful lot. Irabor fell down on one fade and that's going to happen."

Utah hadn't lost when leading at halftime in more than seven years, a span of nearly 50 games. But all streaks end and it wasn't easy for ASU but that doesn't matter now.

"That's what our team is, we fight through adversity," junior quarterback Kelly said. "In the summer, in the winter workouts, the spring, this season, our guys camaraderie is really well right now. Guys were coaching each other, as long as Will and Carl have got those guys on defense, and Darby, coaching, and Jaelen (Strong) and Marion (Grice) and myself coaching, we're a hard team to stop."

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