It wasn’t an ideal start, but in the end Arizona State made the plays necessary to turn a 21-7 first half deficit to Washington State into a 52-31 win. The win keeps the Sun Devils in contention for the Pac-12 South crown for the second consecutive season and their second straight nine win season for the first time since the 1972 and 1973. Here are five things we learned.
Sleeping through the alarm: ASU came out as flat as you could possibly imagine to start the game and it was almost as if they were still asleep for this 11am kick-off. The offense goes three and out on it’s first four possessions, six times out of their first seven possessions, and were negative 23 yards from scrimmage on the four drives. Taylor Kelly was 1-5 for -6 yards passing and was sacked four times. Three of those four sacks on third down. Kelly being the quarterback was easy to be the one to blame and does at the end of the day deserve some of the criticism, but the fact of the matter is the Sun Devil offensive line was getting dominated by the Cougars defensive front out of the gates. On the other side of the ball. The Cougars would respond with explosive plays and then a 10 play, 53 yards for first score to take the early lead. On that drive they executed two big third down plays. The second one went for a touchdown.
“We weren’t executing early and lost our focus at the beginning of the game,” Taylor Kelly said after the game. “It was just focus and we didn’t execute. We just weren’t clicking.”
Foster the Devils: It was the DJ Foster show for the Sun Devil offense. While the offense was really struggling in that opening stretch, Foster became a focal point and converted. Kelly found Foster for a 42 yard gain to stop the bleeding which then lead to a 17 yard score for their first touchdown. As a result of hauling in that big completion, Foster has a reception in all 38 games of his career, which is tied for the ninth-longest active streak in the nation. That focus on Foster led to things opening up for others as seen in scores by Cameron Smith for a 42 yard score and then Fred Gammage which brought ASU all the way back before half. He would finish the game with 155 total yards and three scores.
Defensive Leading to Offense: The Defense, like the offense really got off to a slow start. Penalties were very head scratching and the explosive plays were an issue as they allowed Nine plays of 15 yards or more in the first half. That was the bad. But as for the good, the defense made good adjustments and were able to make plays forcing five turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) in the game. Those lead to 35 points for the offense. That made the difference in the game when you saw how well the Cougars executed when they were not making mistakes with their 622 total yards on 100 plays in the game.
“We started off this game with a plan of rushing four and playing coverage and we scrapped that when it turned 21-7,” explained ASU head coach Todd Graham. “When we went back to doing what we do, we did a much better job.”
“Once our d-line started creating pressure and we started forcing turnovers, that’s when they started slowing down and that’s when we started attacking more,” added ASU safety Damarious Randall.
Smith Keeps Devils Strong: After sustaining a concussion in last week’s loss at Oregon State, ASU’s leading receiver Jaelen Strong did not dress in the game which meant someone needed to step up in a big way. While the offense sputtered in the first half, ASU would get big plays from sophomore Cameron Smith. A 42 yard touchdown made it a one possession game in the first half and then a a 67 yard pitch and catch from Kelly to Smith, which is the longest pass play of the season to this point, led to the DJ Foster touchdown which gave ASU their first lead of the game. He finished the game with six catches for 131 yards and two scores and was a huge factor in the game getting Kelly and the Sun Devils offense into somewhat of a groove to pull back into the game.
“He’s very smart and a man of few words,” mentioned Graham. “I’m really proud of him. He embodies what we want in a student-athlete.”
“Smith had some of his best practices all season and came prepared today,” added Kelly. “He is a tremendous athlete. He is one of those guys that is early to practice and early to treatment. He has just been waiting for his opportunity and today he got it.”
Loyalty trumps all: Much to the chagrin of the many members of the Sun Devil nation, Todd Graham has stuck with Taylor Kelly and not given the ball back to Mike Bercovici despite struggles at times and Graham admitting that his senior quarterback might not be back at 100%. Boo birds came out in the first half when the Sun Devils were struggling and social media got back to their #TeamBerco campaign. But Kelly would turn things around put together one of his best games of the season going 15 for 25 for 232 yards and four touchdowns. And after the game Todd Graham for the first time responded to the nay-sayers out there about his decision to stick with Kelly.
“Once I pick my quarterback…I’m not changing quarterbacks with a win,” stated Graham. “I’m sorry. I’ll be hired and fired [with] my decisions and I’ll always make the decisions myself and I hope that people respect that.”
It will come down to the final week of the season for who will represent the South in the Pac-12. Next friday afternoon will be very intriguing as ASU and Arizona kick-off at the same time as UCLA-Stanford. Will be a great way to keep busy while eating those Thanksgiving leftovers.