PASADENA, Calif. — From his shoulder pads to his socks, Taylor Kelly’s all-white Arizona State uniform was flecked with verdant stains from the Rose Bowl turf.
Kelly could get used to this look. With his impressive first half and his defense’s two big late stands against UCLA, the Sun Devils are Pac-12 South champions for the first time.
And they’ll get to play Stanford for another roll in the Pasadena grass on New Year’s Day.
Kelly passed for 225 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 99 yards and another score, and No. 19 Arizona State hung on in the fourth quarter to clinch the division title with a 38-33 victory over No. 14 UCLA on Saturday night.
Marion Grice had 95 yards rushing and 72 yards receiving for the surging Sun Devils (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12), who will face the vaunted Cardinal in the league title game in two weeks. If Arizona State beats Arizona in the Territorial Cup game next week, the Sun Devils will host Stanford — a possibility almost nobody anticipated just a couple of weeks ago.
“We got a chance to play for a trip to the Rose Bowl, which I’ve dreamed of all my life,” Kelly said in the Rose Bowl tunnel. “We’ve got a couple more to go, and then we can be there.”
Jaelen Strong had six catches for 91 yards and a score, but Arizona State blew most of a 22-point halftime lead over the Bruins (8-3, 5-3). The Sun Devils scored just three points in the second half, but their defense held UCLA scoreless on its final two drives to wrap up their sixth consecutive victory.
“I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and that’s the most impressive display of heart by a team that I’ve ever seen,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who acknowledged getting choked up on the field for maybe the second time in his adult life. “To watch these kids lay it on the line with that kind of heart was overwhelming to me.”
Brett Hundley passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns for UCLA. Myles Jack rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown while the freshman linebacker played almost exclusively on offense.
In the schools’ first meeting as two ranked teams since 1986, Arizona State earned the right to play for its first Rose Bowl berth in 17 years — and the Bruins came up short at home for the first time all season.
“These guys, they just fought back,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “We were in it. We had shots. Those are the what-ifs and the could-have-beens, and they don’t matter. We just have to get better from it. And we will.”
UCLA trailed 38-27 entering the fourth quarter, but Shaq Evans caught a 27-yard TD pass with 11:25 to play. The Bruins drove to the Arizona State 6 in the waning minutes, but Chris Young sacked Hundley for a 13-yard loss before Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.
UCLA got the ball back at its 35 with 3:21 to play. Evans crossed midfield with a catch on fourth-and-5, but the penalty-prone Bruins committed three fouls on the next two snaps, and Hundley’s fourth-down pass to Jordan Payton fell well short of a first down.
The Sun Devils emphatically fought off any flashbacks to the schools’ meeting last season, when the Bruins won 45-43 on Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal as time expired.
“I was almost like, ‘Oh no, it’s happening again,’” Jones said. “But this is a different team. We’ve trained a lot harder. We’re better.”
Arizona State’s victory capped a huge football Saturday for the Grand Canyon State after Arizona’s stunning blowout of No. 5 Oregon — and it means next week’s local derby will be for more than bragging rights.
The Sun Devils lost 42-28 to Stanford on Sept. 21, but they’ve met every challenge down the stretch in Graham’s second season in Tempe, culminating in this resilient win over the Pac-12 South’s champion in each of the last two seasons.
Carl Bradford returned an interception 18 yards for an early score by Arizona State, which racked up 357 yards while taking a 35-13 lead in a dynamic first half.
The Bruins couldn’t overcome their dismal start despite repeatedly getting outstanding field position from Ishmael Adams, who had 234 total yards in kick returns.
“Nothing we hadn’t seen before,” UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr said. “Just their tempo in the first couple of series hurt us, and their quarterback hurt us with his legs. We made those adjustments, but it was too little, too late.”
The Sun Devils reeled off four touchdowns in the last 16 minutes of the first half, including TD runs by D.J. Foster and Michael Eubank. Bradford made Arizona State’s biggest defensive play on the first snap of the second quarter, stepping in front of a short swing pass by Hundley and returning it for a score.
Arizona State drove 62 yards in just 35 seconds during the final minute of the half, with Strong making a 19-yard TD grab with 5 seconds to play for a 22-point lead.