ASU’s challenge: Building off the Washington win
TEMPE, Ariz. — As the possibility of Arizona State’s upset over No. 5 Washington began to settle in last Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium, quarterback Manny Wilkins took a moment to simultaneously rev up the raucous crowd and thank everyone for their support.
When fans rushed the field after the 13-7 win, Wilkins, running Kalen Ballage and others took a mental snapshot of the moment to store in their memory banks for future tales.
“I’ve never experienced that, so that was cool, but you can’t stay stuck in that forever,” Ballage said Tuesday. “That’s how you get beat.”
That is the challenge for the Sun Devils. Despite an unlooked-for win over an undefeated team that made the College Football Playoff last season, and despite two wins over ranked opponents (Oregon was No. 24 before ASU’s win on Sept. 23), the Devils are just 3-3 as they head to Salt Lake City for Saturday’s game against the Utah Utes.
They haven’t dramatically changed the perception of the program. Coach Todd Graham hasn’t saved his job yet, and there is no guarantee the Devils will even make the postseason.
All Saturday’s win did was give the Devils a chance. It’s how they build off that win that will define this team.
“You beat a top-5 team, people are going to start chattering and people are going to start telling you, ‘you guys beat them, you’re good, you did this so good,'” Wilkins said. “As a team and as individuals on the team, guys have got to just deal with the success the right way.
“Of course you enjoy the win because any time you win a football game like that it’s great. Having fans rush the field, I’ve never been a part of something like that. To experience that is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, but it’s about moving on and learning how to be poised in those situations and just growing from it and learning from the mistakes.”
It is hard not to imagine the positive possibilities for ASU now. The Sun Devils are 2-1 in conference play and if they can get somehow get a win at Utah, the following week’s home game with No. 11 USC could be for first place in the Pac-12 South Division. Following that, the Sun Devils have winnable games at home against Colorado, at UCLA, at Oregon State and at home against Arizona.
That’s a lot of assumptions for a .500 team, however, especially in a conference that serves up weekly reminders of its dangers.
Every Power Five conference coach will tell you his conference is the best and deepest in the nation. The Pac-12 can make a strong argument. Through seven weeks, it is the only Power Five conference without an undefeated team after Washington lost and Washington State fell at Cal last week. It is also the only Power Five conference with fewer than two winless teams in conference play (Oregon State is 0-4).
“In this league, it doesn’t matter,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “Every week, you’ve got to bring it because it is hard to be on the road in this league, geographically, and there’s not anybody that can’t beat you on any given weekend.”
Three of ASU’s final six games are on the road. The Sun Devils have not won a road game anywhere since a 32-28 nail-biter at Texas San Antonio on Sept. 10, 2016, and they have not won a Pac-12 road game since a 38-23 win at UCLA on Oct. 3, 2015.
The Sun Devils have lost seven straight road games, nine straight in conference play and they are 0-2 on the road this season after losses at Texas Tech and Stanford.
There is a lot of hard work ahead.
“The past doesn’t matter,” Ballage said. “What matters is Saturday. Whatever we’ve struggled at before, obviously we’ve already got that worked out and we’re preparing for this game on Saturday. We’re going to go play like we’re at home.”