Arizona State, Wisconsin review bizarre ending

Doug Haller
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Arizona State Sun Devils react after beating the Wisconsin Badgers at Sun Devil Stadium.
  • Arizona State defeated Wisconsin after a bizarre turn of events at the end of the game
  • A Pac-12 spokesman on Sunday said the conference had no comment
  • The Sun Devils visit No. 5 Stanford on Saturday

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State might have posted its biggest win since 2004 late Saturday. The Sun Devils overcame several mistakes to defeat No. 18 Wisconsin 32-30 on a wild night at near-capacity Sun Devil Stadium.

But Sunday, few were talking about how the Sun Devils rallied from eight down in the third quarter. Instead, the conversation focused on the final 18 seconds, time Wisconsin tried to use to set up a potential game-winning field goal, only to come up empty.

ASU senior safety Alden Darby said he never had seen an ending like it. "Not in a million years," he said.

To recap: Wisconsin, trailing by two with no timeouts, drove 70 yards in just over a minute, setting up a first down on ASU's 13 yard line. On the first play, quarterback Joel Stave ran left and downed the ball, his right knee touching the grass. Stave then set down the ball on the 15. An official blew his whistle, ruling the play dead.

The Sun Devils, however, didn't think Stave downed the football. When the quarterback placed the ball on the ground, senior linebacker Anthony Jones pounced on it. He stayed on top of the ball for seven seconds, time running off the clock. The Pac-12 officials did little to try and speed up the process. Wisconsin, too, was surprisingly patient given the situation.

Stave didn't appear to even notice the clock until three seconds remained. And when he did, the umpire held out his arm as if to tell the Badgers to wait. That's all it took.

Game over.

A Pac-12 spokesman on Sunday said the conference had no comment, adding that the league normally doesn't review the weekend's plays and officiating until Monday.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen told reporters: "We snapped the ball with 18 seconds left, we (downed) it with 15 seconds left and we never got a chance to snap it again. I don't know how that happens."

ASU coach Todd Graham initially thought Stave just ran to his left and set the ball down, making it a live ball. He said he watched the ending about four times Saturday night and a couple more on Sunday.

"It's hard to see,'' Graham said. "But from my side, the quarterback goes to try and basically take a knee. From the end zone (angle) it looks like his knee might have been down. From the wide (angle) it looks like he's not. What he did, he slipped, so he kind of jerked. Whether he got down or didn't get down, he caused some confusion because their (right tackle) is going like to get on the ball, so it caused our guys to get on the ball."

Stave told reporters that he is certain he downed the football, but he admitted one mistake: "I've just got to make sure I'm not spotting (the ball) myself," he said. "I've got to hang onto the ball so only me and the ref are touching it."

Graham said he spent the final seconds thinking about how the Sun Devils would try and block the winning field goal. On Sunday, he said they would use Wisconsin's misfortune as a teachable moment.

"That's one of the reasons we always hand the ball to the official, because you hand that ball to that umpire he's going to put it down and spot it,'' Graham said, "so there are a lot of teaching opportunities there."

In the end, the Sun Devils (2-0) overcame a lot of mistakes, something Graham attributed to maturity. He said he wasn't sure they would've won a game like this last season. For most of Saturday's contest, ASU hurt itself. Among its flaws:

- Having possession inside the Wisconsin 5 twice in the first half, yet coming away with only a field goal.

- Dropping several passes.

- Snapping the ball over the punter's head, resulting in a Wisconsin (2-1) touchdown.

- Knowing a fake punt was coming and doing nothing to stop it.

- Mismanaging the clock in the fourth quarter's final minutes.

It's a lot to fix before ASU visits No. 5 Stanford on Saturday . But Graham says ASU's errors are correctable and he's proud of his team for responding to adversity.

"This is what's great – we didn't play even close to as good as we can play," he said. "There aren't many games you can snap the ball over your punter's head for a touchdown and still win."

Doug Haller writes for azcentral sports, a Gannett company.


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