In the Todd Graham era, the Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) are 9-2 at home in Tempe and an undefeated 5-0 this season. There’s a quote right above the student section in Sun Devil Stadium that reads, ‘Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here,’ and aside from the nail-biter against Wisconsin earlier in the year, that seems to be the case for every away team between the buttes in 2013.
Coming into this game, the Huskies (4-3, 1-3) had one of the best offenses in the nation. Quarterback Keith Price was 11th in the nation in completion percentage, running back Bishop Sankey was leading the nation with nearly 150 yards per game, and as a team Washington was 8th in total offense.
This game was destined to be a shootout between two high-powered offensive teams considering Arizona State’s pedigree so far this season, but the Sun Devil defense showed up to play.
Will Sutton and company held the nation’s leading rusher in Sankey to under 25 yards, and contained Washington’s rushing attack on the whole to -5 yards on the night. That’s not a typo; the defense that has struggled to stop a rushing attack all year dominated the line of scrimmage and left no doubt on the field, holding Washington to just 212 yards of total offense.
“We were all flying around; we had a really good night,” senior defensive lineman Gannon Conway said. “Really, we were just doing what we were coached to do. It was a really good week of preparation for us. We came out and really did what we were supposed to do; did our job one through eleven, when the play came to them they did their job. So I think the preparation in the week was what really allowed us to have success on defense.”
Conway contributed to the Sun Devils’ seven sacks on the night with one of his own, and tallied two tackles for loss along the way.
After Washington’s first drive, in which they scored a touchdown, the Arizona State defense locked in and pressured Price for the rest of the game, ultimately knocking him out early into the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils finished with 12 tackles for loss. It should also be mentioned that All-American tackle Will Sutton had one of the best games of his senior campaign, notching three tackles for loss and one sack.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devil offense continued their impressive 2013 season with yet another 50+ point night, their third straight performance of the like against Pac-12 competition.
Kelly and senior running back Marion Grice led the offensive attack, accounting for 242 of Arizona State’s 314 yards on the ground and each scoring two rushing touchdowns. Kelly had 268 yards and two touchdowns through the air, connecting with Grice and tight end Chris Coyle.
While the skill positions may get all of the attention on a night with 53 points scored, both coach Graham and Kelly gave credit where credit is due to the offensive line for their performance against a Huskies team that came into the night 20th in total defense.
“The offensive line, they had a great week of practice this week, coming into practice with a great energy and it paid off,” Kelly said. “They wanted to establish themselves and come off of the football against a great front seven of Washington. They did a great job of protecting me and allowing me to get it to my playmakers.”
Although the Devils started the game with one of their best playmakers in Jaelen Strong, he went down with a turned ankle and did not return. Other players needed to step up and they certainly did, the biggest beneficiary being senior wide out Kevin Ozier, who ended up with eight catches for 88 yards.
Seven different players caught the ball tonight, and seven different players ran the ball. Even when an impact player such as Jaelen Strong goes down, the Arizona State offense is still versatile enough to score more points.
“We are very explosive; we have a lot of weapons,” Kelly said. “It’s hard for defenses to key in on one person and if they try to stop one I’m going to the other one. If they stop the pass we are going to run the football. Pick your poison with us; it’s hard for a defense to stop everything, especially when our offensive line does a great job with moving the football.”
The Sun Devils head into a bye week and it couldn’t be at a better time; considering the stretch of six games that they just played. They’ll use this time to heal bruises and nicks and to get ready for a challenging game on the road against Washington State.
It’s been said for the last two years, but to achieve the goals that Graham and ASU wants to achieve, they have to play the same on the road as they do at home. While that’s no easy task, Kelly can feel that this 2013 team is special.
“We are getting better each week,” Kelly said. “Guys are practicing harder than I’ve ever seen, preparing better than I’ve ever seen. Guys are up here at 10 o’clock, 11 at night watching film trying to get better and do their jobs. We trust our coaches and we go out there and do our job and trust what we are coached to do, we are going to have a lot of success. It’s different this year; guys are a lot closer in relationships.
“It’s going to be a great season, we just have got to prepare for Washington State this week and prepare harder than we’ve ever prepare.”