With its 53-24 homecoming win over No. 20 Washington, Arizona State left little doubt that it is solidly in contention for the Pac-12 Conference title. The Sun Devils dismantled Coach Steve Sarkisian’s Husky squad with an impressive combination of “high octane” offensive, stout defense and smart play calling.
Entering an off week, ASU (5-2 and 3-1 in the Pac-12) has a half-game lead over UCLA in the Pac-12 South.
Saturday’s game revealed the continued improvement of the Sun Devils over the course of the 2013 season:
ASU’s defense is finally living up to billing: Washington RB Bishop Sankey took the field at Sun Devil Stadium as the nation’s leading rusher. He had rushed for 208 yards at Illinois, 125 at Stanford and 167 against Oregon. The concern for ASU fans: the Sun Devils entered Saturday’s contest as the Pac-12’s No. 9 rushing defense.
To say ASU put the brakes on Sankey would be an understatement. They held him to 22 yards on 13 carries, his lowest output in 18 games. Overall, Washington had minus-5 rushing yards, and the Huskies’ 212 total yards was 314.8 below their season average.
ASU defenders were active and aggressive against UW. They produced 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Will Sutton, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss in 2012, chalked up three against Washington. Fellow D-linemen Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman, along with linebackers Carl Bradford and Salamo Fiso, each had a pair of tackles for loss.
Washington quarterback Keith Price was knocked from the game with a thumb injury after running for only 19 yards and throwing for 217.
The Sun Devil offense is overflowing with weapons: ASU has shown it can score plenty of points: over the past three conference games, the Sun Devils have scored 62 (USC), 54 (Colorado) and 53 (UW). They racked up 585 yards against the Huskies, 314 of it coming on the ground.
ASU was able to move the ball without star WR Jaelen Strong, who injured his ankle and saw limited action. Sophomore receiver Rick Smith was also on the injured list. This forced the Sun Devils to play most of the game with senior Kevin Ozier and redshirt-freshman Frederick Gammage at the receiver positions. Ozier ended the day with eight receptions, one less than he had caught in ASU’s previous six outings.
ASU’s ground game also stood out versus Washington. The Sun Devils rushed for 317 total yards. Senior RB Marion Grice gained a season-high 158 yards and added three more touchdowns to his stat sheet (two rushing, one receiving). Grice is now closing in on Wilford “Whizzer” White’s school season record.
Taylor Kelly is redefining the term “dual-threat” quarterback: Against the Huskies, ASU’s Taylor Kelly once again showed why he is one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous quarterbacks. He threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 84 yards and two scores. Kelly can make something out of nothing, and has an uncanny ability to find running room when a play breaks down. Moreover, the Eagle, Idaho, native has deceptive speed in the open field.
ASU still has five regular-season games to play, starting with trips to Washington State and Utah. Head Coach Todd Graham must demonstrate that his team can overcome its road woes as it enters the teeth of the Pac-12 Conference schedule.