With as many offensive weapons as No. 20 Washington has, most people expected the Huskies to challenge ASU to a shootout on the gridiron.
But the Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) had other plans on defense.
Stop the nation’s leading rusher? Done. Pressure the Pac-12′s fifth-most efficient quarterback? Done.
ASU’s defense had a surprising performance, limiting Huskies junior tailback Bishop Sankey to 22 rushing yards and senior quarterback Keith Price to 16-to-39 passing as the Sun Devils upset Washington 53-24 at Sun Devil Stadium on Homecoming night.
“Man, what an impressive performance,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “Might be the most impressive performance as a team that we’ve had since I’ve been here. We got a heck of a football team.”
The Sun Devils’ defensive front-seven undoubtedly had its best performance of the season so far, coming up with 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. ASU redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso had two sacks, while redshirt senior defensive tackle Will Sutton, redshirt defensive ends Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman, senior linebacker Anthony Jones and redshirt junior linebacker Carl Bradford all came up with sacks as well. The Huskies meanwhile finished with -5 net rushing yards and 212 yards of total offense.
“It was a really good week of preparation for us,” Conway said. “We came out and really did what we were supposed to do. Did our job. Did our one-eleventh (of our own jobs), and made plays happen.”
ASU was just as successful offensively. The Sun Devils ended with 585 yards of total offense — 314 rushing and 271 passing. ASU senior running back Marion Grice had a career-high 158 yards rushing with two touchdown runs while recording 37 receiving yards and one touchdown reception.
ASU redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly threw 26-for-42 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw an interception. Kelly had a career-high in rushing with 84 yards, including two touchdown runs.
But there was also a twist.
The Sun Devils’ offense accomplished virtually all of that without redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who left the game early in the third quarter after he rolled his ankle. Redshirt senior wide receiver Kevin Ozier and senior tight end Chris Coyle emerged in Strong’s absence by recording 88 and 78 receiving yards, respectively.
“We’re very explosive,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of weapons at receiver, running back and tight end. It’s hard for defenses to key one person. If you try to stop one, I’m going to the other one. If they stop the pass, we’re going to run the football. It’s very hard for a defense. Pick your poison with us. It’s hard for a defense to stop everything. We just have a lot of playmakers.”
The game had a start that ended up contrasting the rest of the afternoon.
After ASU’s first offensive drive ended in a quick three-and-out, Washington marched up the field on 60-yard, 11-play drive that ended with Sankey’s 1-yard touchdown run and Washington was quickly up 7-0.
The score was made possible with help from ASU’s defense, which was penalized for having 12 men on the field on fourth-and-two.
“I thought my head was going to explode,” Graham said. “If we had 12 guys on the field again, I’m going to lose it. We can’t do that. We would’ve stopped them on fourth down.”
Things stood quiet in the first quarter until ASU freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez hit a 26-yard field goal to cut the ASU deficit to four points. The Sun Devils had another chance to score, but Kelly threw an interception to Huskies sophomore defensive back Marcus Peters after ASU made a surprise snap on a trick play.
The Huskies had a 7-3 lead at the start of the second quarter but went three-and-out to begin the quarter. Grice caught a 15-yard pass from Kelly that ended up being ruled a touchdown, but Huskies junior defensive tackle Danny Shelton blocked Gonzalez’s extra point attempt to make ASU’s lead only 9-7.
Following the first ASU touchdown, the Huskies failed to score on their next nine drives with eight of them resulting in punts after three-and-outs.
The Sun Devils’ proceeded to go on a scoring spree. Gonzalez hit a 22-yard field goal and another one from 36 yards following Huskies junior wide receiver Kasen Williams’s fumble that was recovered by ASU senior linebacker Chris Young. Kelly had his first touchdown run for 1-yard with 2:08 left in the second quarter, and then followed it up with a 14-yard pass to Coyle with 14 seconds left in the half.
ASU had a 29-7 lead going into halftime on a 29-0 run. Washington had just 58 yards of offense with -4 yards rushing at the half.
The Huskies weren’t ready to roll over just yet, though. A minute into the third quarter, Price hit senior wide receiver Kevin Smith for a 70-yard touchdown.
On the next ASU drive, Kelly had a 36-yard run on a read-option play, then ran the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown on another read option to put ASU up 36-14.
Washington then tried to answer back and got to ASU’s 4-yard line. The Huskies tried to go for it on fourth down, but were called for a false-start penalty and had to settle for senior kicker Travis Coon’s 27-yard field goal.
Gonzalez tacked on another field goal for 21 yards as the Sun Devils ended the quarter with a 39-17 lead. He finished the game 4-for-4 on field goals and has made his last 11.
ASU contained Washington’s defense on the next drive, but redshirt senior defensive back Robert Nelson Jr. fumbled the punt return on ASU’s 46-yard line. The Huskies capitalized on the opportunity as Price threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
It still wasn’t enough to put the Huskies back in the game, though as Grice scored the final touchdown with a 14-yard rush, which sealed ASU’s win.
Graham said last Monday that this game would determine if ASU is ready to compete for the Pac-12 Championship. Following the win over a Washington, he said he remains focused on winning the Pac-12 South before going on to the championship game.
“This was a big game for us,” Graham said. “(Washington was) back against the wall because you lose three in the conference and you’re just about done. We still control our own destiny and I kind of like being in control of our own destiny. You got to go beat everyone in the South. You beat everybody in the South, win the next five games and we have a pretty good chance in the conference championship game.”
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