TEMPE, Ariz. — Failure to force turnovers had been a big problem for Arizona State this season.
Until the final three minutes Saturday night.
The Sun Devils picked off Davis Webb twice in that span and D.J. Calhoun returned a Cal onside kick attempt 42 yards with 48 seconds to play in a 51-41 victory over the Bear in the Pac-12 opener for both teams on Saturday night.
Laiu Moekiola returned the second interception 28 yards for a touchdown to put the Sun Devils (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) ahead 44-34 with 2:52 remaining.
“You can’t throw two picks in the fourth quarter and expect to win,” Webb said. “That is on me. If you turn the ball over, you are probably going to lose.”
Webb’s fifth touchdown pass of the night, 26 yards to Demetris Robertson, cut the lead to 44-41 with 54 seconds to play. But Calhoun grabbed the onside kick try and ran untouched to the end zone.
Manny Wilkins completed 21 of 30 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown for Arizona State and ran 23 times for 72 yards and three scores.
Salamo Fiso’s interception set up the last of Zane Gonzalez’s three field goals, a 23-yarder that careened off the right upright, to put the Sun Devils ahead for good 37-34 with 2:55 remaining.
On the first play after the subsequent kickoff, Moekiola picked off Webb’s short pass and returned it for the score.
“You see veteran guys make big plays tonight when it mattered,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said.
Webb completed 31 of 55 for 478 yards for California (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12). He wrapped up his night with a lost fumble.
“Clearly turnovers, clearly turnovers,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said, “and we just didn’t make any breaks for ourselves down the stretch.”
Chad Hansen, who entered the game the national leader in yards receiving and receptions, caught 10 passes for 110 yards for Cal, but had just two catches for six yards in the second half.
The Bears led 24-10 at the half before allowing Arizona State to score 41 second-half points, 31 in the fourth quarter.
“First half, that’s on me,” Wilkins said. “I just have to get things rolling a bit quicker, but we’ll be good, 4-0.”
Arizona State took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown.
“The big drive they had was at the start of the third quarter,” Dykes said. “They really ran the ball well on that drive and that gave them some confidence that they can run it against us. It seemed like we got on our heels at that point.”
California: Nothing changed the perception that the Bears have one of the top passing offenses in the country, but it wasn’t enough. Webb had thrown only two interceptions in the first three games.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are gaining a reputation as a fourth-quarter team. They rallied to beat Texas Tech, UTSA and California.
The Sun Devils knew all about Webb. As a freshman at Texas Tech, he threw for 403 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-23 upset victory over Arizona State in the 2013 Holiday Bowl.
California: The Bears return home to face Utah next Saturday.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils go to Los Angeles to play USC on Saturday.