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Sun Devils surge past Cal, 31-20

October 27, 2007

By Matt Storey, ASU Media Relations

Behind yet another second-half comeback, the No. 4 ASU football team defeated No. 21 California 31-20 Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 71,706 at Sun Devil Stadium. 

Trailing 20-14 at halftime, the Sun Devils outscored the Golden Bears 17-0 after the break to get their first win over a ranked opponent this year.

ASU has now rallied from halftime deficits in three straight games and four of its last five, also coming back against Oregon State, Washington State and Washington. Through the first eight games, the Sun Devils have outscored their opponents 153-29 in the second half. 

"We know how to deal with that adversity," quarterback Rudy Carpenter said of his team's comeback ability.  "I think the most important thing is that the coaches make good second half adjustments for us."

This was also the third time this season that the Sun Devils have faced a double-digit deficit after the opening quarter, as they trailed 13-0 to Cal after the first.  They fell behind 14-0 to Colorado and 19-0 to Oregon State earlier in the season before rallying to win those games as well. 

"It was not all that much fun in the first quarter, to be honest with you, but our guys believe," head coach Dennis Erickson said of the early deficit to Cal.  "They came out early against us and put some points on the board.  What can I say?  We just keep battling."

Running backs Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance proved capable of leading the offense with Ryan Torain out for the season with a foot injury. 

Herring rushed for 96 yards on 24 carries, while Nance carried the ball 21 times for 85 yards and three touchdowns.  Nance also converted two fourth-and-1 situations, the second of which was an eight-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give ASU its first lead at 21-20.

"[Torain said] just to step our game up," Nance said.  "We had big shoes to fill, and we had to step our game up." 

In the first half, Carpenter passed for just 45 yards and had a fumble returned by the Cal defense for a score, but he rebounded to finish the game 17-29 for 219 yards and a touchdown.

"I think early in the game they put a little pressure on him and he made a couple bad decisions," Erickson said.  "He came out and played really well in the second half."

Nine different Sun Devils caught passes, with wide receiver Chris McGaha leading the way with four catches for 58 yards.  Fellow wide receiver Kyle Williams caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and starting tight end Brent Miller returned from injury to catch two passes for 17 yards.

"It's nice to have him back," Erickson said of Miller's return.  "That makes a big difference.  He made a couple of catches and it was nice to see him."

ASU's defense was also up to the task against Cal's high-powered offense, holding the Golden Bears to season-lows of 20 points and one offensive touchdown.

The Sun Devils intercepted Cal quarterback Nate Longshore twice, both in the fourth quarter, and they held running back Justin Forsett, who came in averaging 115.9 yards per game, to just 62 yards on 17 carries.

Also, cornerback Justin Tryon limited Golden Bears wide receiver DeSean Jackson to just two catches for 19 yards in the second half, and he intercepted a pass intended for Jackson on the opening play of the fourth quarter.

"We put JT [Tryon] on Jackson the whole night one on one, and he did a heck of a job," Erickson said.  "We played great defense in the second half."

Cal had a chance to get on the board first, but Jordan Kay's 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Sun Devils tight end Tyrice Thompson.

However, the Golden Bears would still strike first when defensive end Rulon Davis sacked Carpenter, forcing a fumble that fellow defensive end Cameron Jordan returned 13 yards for a touchdown.

Cal scored on its next two drives, but the Sun Devil defense was able to hold the Golden Bears to Kay field goals both times.

Nance got ASU its first points early in the second quarter with an 11-yard touchdown run, but Cal answered right back with an 11-play, 89-yard scoring drive that ended with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Longshore to Jackson.

ASU responded with a long scoring drive of its own, going 65 yards in 12 plays and pulling within 20-14 on Nance's two-yard touchdown run.  Nance carried seven times for 28 yards on the drive, including a crucial 11-yard run on a fourth-and-1 from the 25-yard line.

The Sun Devils then began to attack through the air on their first drive of the third quarter.  Carpenter connected with McGaha for 19 yards, Rudy Burgess for 20 yards and Mike Jones for 31 yards to move the team inside the 20.  Nance then capped off the drive with his third touchdown of the night, an eight-yard score on another fourth-and-1.

Freshman Thomas Weber made a 47-yard field goal on ASU's next possession, improving him to 15-for-15 on field goal attempts for his young career and extending the lead to 24-20.

Cal then turned the ball over on its next two possessions, as Tryon and linebacker Robert James each picked off Longshore passes.  The second interception led to another ASU touchdown, as Carpenter found Williams for a 12-yard touchdown and a 31-20 lead.

After Cal punted on its ensuing drive, the Sun Devils used their ground game to run the final 5:49 off the clock and wrap up another victory.

NOTES: The Sun Devils have shut out their opponents in the second half of four of their eight games this season...ASU has intercepted a pass in all eight games this season...This was ASU's first win over a ranked opponent since a 44-7 victory over No. 16 Iowa on Sept. 18, 2004, and it broke a streak of nine straight losses to AP Top 25 teams...Thompson's blocked field goal was the first by ASU since Mike Pinkard blocked a 36-yard attempt by Washington's John Anderson on Oct. 14, 2000... Erickson improved to 27-15 all-time against ranked opponents, and his 8-0 start at ASU is the second-best in Pac-10 history behind only Stanford's Charles Taylor, who began 9-0 in 1951.