PASADENA -- Arizona State didn't turn the ball over Saturday, but fumbled something away all the same: opportunity.
In control of their own destiny entering a pivotal Pac-12 South showdown between the division's top two teams eligible for post-season play, the Sun Devils needed a win over UCLA to take a two-game advantage with three games to play, as well hold possession of the tie-breaker.
But instead of taking the division by stranglehold and giving themselves a one-game shot at the Rose Bowl, they wilted in the stadium in which that game is played, losing 29-28 to the Bruins in a game of blown opportunities including three missed field goals.
Now, the Sun Devils are 6-3 overall, 4-2 in the Pac-12, while the Bruins are 5-4 (4-2) and able to earn a trip to the inaugural conference title game with wins in their final three games at Utah, against Colorado and at USC. ASU, meanwhile, must win its remaining games and hope UCLA trips up.
"It's a gut wrenching loss for this football team," Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson said. "You have to give UCLA credit, but we had so many opportunities in the second half to either put it away or win it. We got two turnovers and didn't get any points. We missed a short field goal when we were up. We had a chance to put them in a tough situation because of what they do offensively."
The Sun Devils took a five point lead midway through the fourth quarter and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. With a chance to seemingly ice the game with a score, they instead failed to gain a first down and red shirt freshman kicker Alex Garoutte missed his second field goal attempt of the game, this one from 36 yards.
With new life rushing though its veins, UCLA moved the ball 79 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead score to make it 29-28 with 0:49 left on the game clock. The drive included an improbable third-and-29 conversion, a Kevin Prince passed to receiver Nelson Rosario that saw sophomore cornerback Alden Darby get turned around in man coverage.
Behind junior quarterback Brock Osweiler, ASU moved rapidly down field with the aid of a pass interference call to give Garoutte a chance to win it on the game's final play with a 46 yard attempt, but it fell short.
Another half minute may have been all the Sun Devils needed to get Garoutte closer, but some clock management issues and a bit of bad luck in the final 90 seconds became a factor.
Erickson used two of his timeouts with the Bruins at first-and-goal from the six yard line and second-and-goal from the four, but allowed roughly 20 second of clock to expire before calling the first, and lost 11 seconds on the second when officials didn't see his signal.
"It was basically my fault," Erickson said. "I tried to call a timeout but the refs officials were at the other end. I finally got there attention and so it cost us 10-15 seconds."
Asked about Garoutte's struggles on the day -- a player who had been extremely consistent in his last few outings -- Erickson said there were many other opportunities that were missed but the 37-yarder was certainly costly.
"It's like any kicker," Erickson said. "They have their days. The two long ones, 48, 49 yards, are hard kicks. There is no question about that. The other one would have put us up by 8. But he's our kicker. We just have to continue to work and get better."
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said it was a see-saw battle and he felt fortunate to see his team emerge on top.
"There are mistakes you wish you could correct and coach, but that happens when you're going 100 miles an hour," Neuheisel said. "We just happened to be the team with one more point (at the end). We're thrilled with it and we'll enjoy it and then we'll get back to work."
Behind a resurgent junior running back Cameron Marshall, who had 168 yards rushing on 27 carries -- including 102 in the first half -- the Sun Devils didn't have problems racking up yards (465 on the day) but couldn't translate it into point.
The Sun Devils dominated yards from scrimmage in the first half but trained 16-14 at intermission and saw UCLA strike first in the third quarter on a 76-yard pass to Rosario to make it 23-14 that saw a massive breakdown in the ASU secondary. Following the play, junior cornerback Deveron Carr was removed at corner in favor of Darby, who was later the key figure in UCLA's play of the game.
ASU responded with back-to-back touchdowns and held the Bruins scoreless for a 28 minute span of the second half, but it was all for naught.
"We'll deal with this loss tomorrow and then we have to get ready to play Washington State. That's all we can do. We can't control our own destiny. But we can have a good year and you never know what can happen down the road."