November 29, 2008

ASU scores four defensive touchdowns in rout

On Senior Night at Sun Devil Stadium, both the Arizona State and UCLA offenses looked like underclassmen.

But fortunately for the Sun Devils, their defense earned its masters degree Friday.

The ASU defense tied a Football Bowl Subdivision record by scoring four defensive touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 34-9 victory over the Bruins.

"I have never been part of that kind of performance [before]," said defensive tackle Paul 'Unga, who had his first career touchdown in his final home game as a Sun Devil. "I guess it was an NCAA record, those four defensive touchdowns, and I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Friday's win keeps the Sun Devils' postseason hopes alive as ASU (5-6, 4-4 Pac-10) will ride its three-game win streak into Tucson next weekend needing a victory to become bowl eligible.

ASU's offense didn't make its way into the end zone all night and the defense actually had more return yards (200) than the offensive had total yards (122).

"We probably should have just started punting on first down because we were probably hurting our defense more," quarterback Rudy Carpenter said. "The defense played great. That's the reason why we won, obviously. We'll take the win however we can get it."

Coach Dennis Erickson called the defensive performance "unbelievable."

He said every facet of the defense from the pressure the front four provided, to the coverage in the secondary, to the open field tackling was impressive.

"In however many years I've been coaching now… I've never seen a defensive effort like that," he said. "I've never seen that many points scored on defense ever in my life. It's something special.

"If you want to build a solid football program that is going to last for a long period of time you've got to become great on defense. We're getting close. We're not there, we have another one next week but we're getting close. These seniors that are playing defense started to establish the attitude that we want and when you play like that you have a chance to win about every football game you play."

'Unga, one of the least likely players to ever score, had the first touchdown of the night on a 17-yard fumble return.

The next three defensive scores were all pick sixes. They came courtesy of linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon, and safety Troy Nolan.

"I can't even put it into words," Nolan said of having this type of defensive performance on Senior Night. "It's a great feeling."

And while the other defensive seniors must have felt as good as Nolan did, the seniors on the other side of the ball probably wanted better personal performances in their final game at Sun Devil Stadium.

Carpenter went 13-of-26 for just 101 yards. He had no touchdowns and one interception.

Carpenter did, however, break the school record for all-time completions. He now has 786 completed passes in his career.

Senior running back Keegan Herring was ASU's leading rusher on the night, but he only totaled 32 yards on 13 carries.

Senior wide receiver Mike Jones finished the game with six receptions for 43 yards.

"They kicked our rear ends," Erickson said of the UCLA defense.

But luckily for ASU, it didn't need its offense to score against the Bruins.

All four of the defensive touchdowns were very timely for the Sun Devils, and all came courtesy of errors by UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft.

The first touchdown was one of the weirdest plays you will ever see in football.

Defensive end Dexter Davis sacked Craft, forced a fumble and the ball squirted about seven yards ahead of where Craft lost it. Most of the players thought it was an incomplete pass but the whistle never blew.

With both teams standing around, UCLA running back Derrick Coleman picked the ball up and stood with it for a second before Nixon came and swatted it out of his hands. Then, 'Unga came running in, picked the ball up and headed into the end zone.

The play was reviewed and the touchdown was confirmed.

"I picked up the ball and I started walking and I turned around Luis Vasquez said, 'go' so I ran to the touchdown. They reviewed it and it stayed so I was happy,"
'Unga said. "I was watching the replay and I was like, 'please, please let it be a fumble.'"

That score made the game 7-3 in ASU's favor.

Goethel had the next score when he picked off a pass that was initially tipped by cornerback Terell Carr. Goethel returned it 38 yards to the end zone.

UCLA added a field goal just before halftime and the score was 14-6 at the midway point.

In the locker room, the defensive coaches told their players they wanted two more defensive scores before the game was over.

The defense did as the coaches asked.

Near the end of the third quarter, with ASU leading 17-9, UCLA was marching and it appeared the Bruins were on the verge of scoring again.

But then Nolan stepped in.

On a floating pass into the end zone the safety tipped the ball to himself and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown. It was the fourth pick six of Nolan's career.

"I wanted to make a big play, but I didn't think it was going to be a 100-yard interception," he said. "Getting that, that was really a highlight. It put a stamp on my career here."

The 100-yard interception return tied a school record.

Nixon's interception came just two plays later when he picked Craft off and took the ball back 45 yards for the score.

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