ASU done in by turnovers in heartbreaking loss

ASU done in by turnovers in heartbreaking loss

Published Sep. 15, 2012 10:39 p.m. ET

Even in Arizona State's first losing effort of the season, coach Todd Graham looked like a prophet.

All week leading up to the Sun Devils' road game against Missouri on Saturday, Graham said the only team that could beat ASU in Columbia was ASU. He also said at one point that ASU was "very capable of that."

The Sun Devils (2-1) proved Graham right, making the very mistakes their coach said they couldn't afford to in a heartbreaking 24-20 loss.

"It was a tough loss, because at the end of the day, we beat ourselves," Graham said, adding multiple compliments for Missouri's preparation and coaching.

Those mistakes? Turnovers and (to a lesser extent) penalties, Graham's two biggest talking points. ASU committed four turnovers, two on fumbles and two on interceptions. Two of those turnovers led to Missouri touchdowns. The last of those sealed Missouri's win when redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly threw his second interception, a ball that sailed and was picked off in the end zone with 38 seconds left.

Kelly led ASU's fourth-quarter revival, rallying the Sun Devils from a 24-7 deficit at the end of the third quarter to within a yard of the lead, but he also accounted for three of the team's turnovers. The other came on a fumble by senior Jamal Miles, who was returning a punt in the first quarter.

In two previous games -- both blowout wins -- ASU had committed just two turnovers, both fumbles, but Graham earlier in the week called ball security the team's "one kryptonite." That was apparent Saturday, and ASU's toughest opponent yet was able to capitalize.

"We've got to take better care of the ball," Graham said. "Hopefully that will wake us up."

Kelly may have turned the ball over three times, but he also made a game of what could have been a blowout. After starting the game 1 for 8 passing, he went on an 11-for-11 streak, not throwing another incomplete pass until a fourth-down play when ASU was just a yard from a go-ahead touchdown. Kelly also led the team with 59 rushing yards. He finished 14 for 23 with 177 passing yards and a touchdown.

Sloppy special-teams play compounded the mistakes, as a bobbled punt led to a Missouri touchdown and a botched extra-point attempt left ASU down four points late. Because of that, a field goal on the drive that ended with Kelly's second interception wouldn't have been enough to tie.

As for penalties, the Sun Devils committed seven for 54 yards. They entered the night having committed just five for 35 yards. None of the seven penalties, however, were what Graham would call "stupid." No late hits. No personal fouls. None of the extracurricular blunders that characterized ASU teams of the recent past.

The Sun Devils may have made some mistakes amid adversity, but they remained composed, disciplined and focused. That ASU refused to let frustration take over is a testament to the approach Graham and his staff have instilled.

"I'm really proud of our players," Graham said. "Our guys showed great character. I really thought we were going to come back and win the game.

"We faced a lot of adversity, and those kids never broke. They never dropped their heads, there was never any bickering. They stayed true to who we are."

ASU finally faced the adversity it needed to, even with Missouri starting quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a sore shoulder, and nearly pulled out a win in a game that didn't appear to be competitive for most of the first half. Things might have been much tougher were Franklin playing, but the Sun Devils have a better understanding of themselves now and have shown they can handle failure with poise.

Despite the turnovers and shoddy special-teams play -- which included consistently bad snaps -- Graham took the blame for the loss.

"That's our job as coaches to get guys ready to play, and we just didn't get it done," Graham said.

Graham admitted ASU should have scored in three attempts from the 1-yard line on its second-to-last drive of the game. He didn't second-guess the decision to have redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Eubank run the ball twice, but he said the series would be evaluated.

"You've got to give (Missouri) credit," Graham said. "We had two chances to score right there at the end and we didn't do it. We should've scored on both series."

With the loss, ASU will go winless on the road against nonconference opponents for the sixth straight season. The Sun Devils have not posted a winning record on the road since 2007.

"I told our guys, 'Keep your head up high, we're 2-1, that season's over,'" Graham said. "That's preseason, now starts conference play. Our focus is Utah and our guys will bounce back.