TEMPE, Ariz. — Where did that come from?
The popular thinking heading into their homecoming matchup against Washington was that the Arizona State Sun Devils defense would struggle to stop the run. Why wouldn’t they? They allowed Wisconsin to rumble for 231 yards. Stanford went for 240. USC gouged their defense for 247. Notre Dame had 145.
So with the nation’s second-leading rusher, Bishop Sankey, headed to the desert, it would be the same old tune, right? Sankey had run for 100-plus yards in nine of his last 11 contests, including two 200-yard efforts in that span.
What transpired at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday afternoon was completely unexpected — the Sun Devils shut down Sankey, holding him to just 22 yards on 13 carries in an impressive 53-24 win in front of 60,057 fans at Sun Devil Stadium. ASU allowed a net of -5 yards rushing.
But the dominance went beyond the rushing column. The Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1) harassed UW quarterback Keith Price all day. The fifth-year senior completed just 16-of-39 passes for 217 yards. He did have two touchdowns, but was sacked seven times and generally took a pounding from ASU’s front seven before leaving the game with a thumb injury in the fourth quarter.
“The rush yards that we’ve given up and the things that have happened are all correctable,” Arizona State head coach Graham said.
You can say that again — and if Saturday is an indication, they’ve already been corrected.
Somewhat lost in the glow of the defensive effort was another sharp offensive performance that saw the Devils post 585 yards of offense and 53 points — the third straight time they’ve eclipsed the 50-point barrier in Pac-12 play.
“This might be the most impressive performance we’ve had as a team since I’ve been here,” Graham glowed following the game. “We’ve got a heck of a football team, I love watching them play.
“We dominated a really good football team tonight.”
Indeed they did. Washington, despite consecutive losses to Stanford and Oregon, was still ranked 20th entering the game, partly due to the fact that they hung with those teams. There was no hanging with ASU Saturday.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton returned to his menacing ways with three tackles for loss. Fellow defenders Carl Bradford, Gannon Conway, Salamo Fiso and Davon Coleman each had two. The Devils’ defense held Washington to just 23 percent (4-of-17) on third down conversions. The Huskies had been converting 57 percent on the season — the fourth-best mark in the country.
Offensively, the Sun Devils ran at will, racking up a season-high 317 yards rushing. Marion Grice ran for 161 yards and found the end zone three times. Quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 268 yards and two scores and made solid decisions in read-option situations. Kelly had a career-high 84 yards rushing.
Senior receiver Kevin Ozier stepped up after Jaelen Strong left the game with an ankle injury and caught eight balls for 88 yards — both career-highs.
Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez kicked four field goals and has now nailed 11 straight attempts.
The win wasn’t perfect, but damn, was it impressive.
Graham said earlier in the week that he liked the position his team was in entering the second half of the season. Many ASU faithful rolled their eyes, remembering a lackluster performance at Stanford and a stinging loss to Notre Dame in what was an infinitely winnable game.
But Graham just might be on to something. And so might his team.