Playing without Sutton for nearly all of the last two weeks, the Arizona State defense hardly resembled the same unit that statistically ranked tops in the Pac-12 throughout the season's first half. That all appeared to change with Sutton back in the fold as the Sun Devil defense came out attacking, forcing the Beavers (7-1, 5-1) into early mistakes, looking more like a team that might still have some fight in them.
On just the third play of the game, a blitzing Sutton forced a Cody Vaz fumble, which was recovered by Junior Onyeali and returned for a one yard score, quieting the Corvallis crowd and giving ASU the kind of confidence it greatly needed.
"Defensively, I'm really, really proud of Will Sutton," commented Coach Graham after the game. "With the way he played tonight and to come back that quickly, he's a warrior and I'm very, very proud of him. And I'm proud of the way our guys played hard. We did some great things.
“At times we played great defensively. We scored a touchdown there early and had a lot of momentum in the first quarter but you've got to give them credit because they came back and captured the momentum in the second quarter."
However, after a one yard Cameron Marshall touchdown run, the 35th of his career, would give the Sun Devils a 14-3 lead after their first offensive possession of the game, the Beavers slowly and methodically mounted their comeback thanks in large part to the steady play of a couple of back-ups as ASU watched their lead slip away.
Junior quarterback Cody Vaz picked the Sun Devil secondary apart as he completed 14-33 passes for 267 yards to go along with three touchdowns and one interception. By halftime, the Sun Devils had seen their lead wilt away as Oregon State tied it up heading into the break.
Despite spending most of the game under heavy pressure from the Sun Devils front seven, Vaz was able to make the big plays, including touchdowns of 49 and 50 yards, helping to keep the Beavers stay within striking distance in the Pac-12 North.
Complementing Vaz on Saturday was sophomore running back Terron Ward, playing in place of the injured Storm Woods, who rushed for 146 yards on just 19 carries, including a 53 yard touchdown in the first quarter which started the Oregon State scoring attack. Phoenix native and wide receiver Markus Wheaton got into the action as well, as he torched the Sun Devils for four receptions and 108 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He even chipped in with 3 carries and 57 rushing yards, helping to pace the Oregon State offensive attack.
Overall, the Beavers collected 424 yards of total offense, the third consecutive opponent to do so against the Devils.
"I think what's killed us defensively is we're thin," said Graham. "I think the injuries have hurt us tremendously. I think you've seen that in the last few weeks, but I would tell you it's also the schedule. It's who we've played. That's why last week was so tough to lose that game because that was a close game between two really good teams and we lost a close one that we needed to win.
"We got beat by Oregon and we got beat by Oregon State and both of their defenses dominated us. So that was the story of the game."
Offensively, Arizona State played sporadically and appeared out of sorts throughout the night. The Devils jumped ahead thanks to the determined and motivated rushing attack of Cameron Marshall early on, but seemingly abandoned the run as the game wore on. Marshall finished with just 42 yards on ten carries. Even more noticeable was the lack of touches for fellow running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, both of whom combined for just nine rushes and 36 yards.
"They're just very sound," said Marshall afterwards. "They were all over the ball and they're just very good tacklers. They've got a good defense and it's one of the reasons why they're 7-1 now. We had some difficulty trying to move the ball on them.
"We knew they were going to be a challenge going into this week," he added. "We knew they had stopped the run pretty well and so we knew it would be a challenge running the ball and throwing the ball against tighter defense but we anticipated moving the ball better than we did, so we're just going to have to go back and look at our mistakes and find out where we can correct them."
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly, who once again spent the majority of the game scrambling outside of the pocket while the offense failed to find it's groove, completed just 22-41 passing attempts for 153 yards, including one touchdown and one interception, giving the way to Michael freshman Michael Eubank late in the game as Head Coach Todd Graham helplessly looked for an answer to the Beavers defense.
"I think they're a very well coached football team," said Graham of Oregon State's defense. "I think they're a very, very sound defense. You've got to spread them out and we were doing that, but we didn't stay consistent about what we were doing. They're obviously very, very good and you can tell they've been in their system a long time.
“I thought they did the best job defending what we do offensively. That was the deal tonight; we could not do anything."
Overall, the Sun Devils could muster up only 303 yards of offense, their fewest output of the season, thanks in large part to Kelly's 80 yards of rushing, as Oregon State suffocated them in the second half with their defensive pressure.
"Their interior defensive line and front seven were doing a great job of doing stunts and twists and just mixing it up," remarked Kelly. "We couldn't really get the run game going but they did a great job scheming against us. The big thing was just the three and outs. It's hard for us and something we can't have. It's frustrating when you keep going three and out, three and out.
“But I've got great faith and confidence in my guys and what they can do and so we'll be better at that next week."
Looking ahead, the road doesn't get any easier for the Sun Devils, who will now look to break their current three-game skid against Southern California next weekend in Los Angeles. Despite falling to 3-3 in conference, all is not lost for the Sun Devils as both they and the Trojans trail UCLA by one game in the division standings.
"It's all too familiar," remarked Marshall." We've experienced this before. It's familiar and it's different at the same time because this group of guys, I think our heads are in a different place than it has been before. We've lost a few straight and we're looking forward to getting back on top.
"We still have a couple things to play for so we're frustrated and we know the feeling having done this last year and the year before, but we haven't given up on the season or anything like that. We know there's still a lot to play for."