(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Coming into Saturday night’s game against Washington, the Sun Devils did not have the cards stacked in their favor.
Depleted by a plethora of offensive injuries and facing one of the best teams in the country figured to be enough reason to consider the Sun Devils heavy underdogs, and it showed throughout Saturday night, as a whirlwind of a game concluded in a 44-18 Washington victory.
Todd Graham mentioned that without a doubt, Washington is the best team they have faced in the Pac-12 this season.
The game was never really close, as the Huskies beat the Sun Devils in every aspect, outgaining them 169-15 on the ground and 507-245 overall.
Sun Devils left searching for offensive answers in the first half
As has been the case a few times this season, the Sun Devils played well in the first quarter but watched it all go downhill from there. The offense was shutout, and ASU found themselves trailing 24-0 at the break.
News broke shortly before the game that wide receiver Jalen Harvey and tight end Kody Kohl would not play and fellow wide receiver Tim White continued to be limited, providing Manny Wilkins with few options through the air.
Without his full arsenal of weapons at his disposal Wilkins had a lackluster first half performance, completing only half of his passes (5-for-10) for 32 yards. In what will probably go down as the play of the year by an opponent against ASU, Wilkins was intercepted in the end zone on a one-handed catch by Kevin King that had shades of Odell Beckham’s notorious grabs.
“As an offense, we have to do a better job of putting points on the board,” Wilkins said. “That falls on me. I have to do a better job of protecting the ball.”
Wilkins was also sacked four times, one week after being taken down by Utah on 11 separate occasions. The offensive line has been banged up as of late, and was missing Sam Jones and Stephon McCray once again. To add to the injury woes, Zach Robertson went down at the end of the second half.
“They brought a lot of pressure and we weren’t responding well,” Graham said. “They brought a lot of field pressure it caused us some problems. The story of the night was that their defense was very dominating.”
On the ground, Demario Richard received the most playing time he has gotten in weeks. The drop-off was partly due to injury and partly due to performance. As has been the story with him for most of the season, tonight he was productive at times but was also inconsistent.
Richard rushed for only 24 yards in the half and Kalen Ballage wasn’t much better. He averaged only 1.4 yards on his five carries.
Meanwhile, it was the Sun Devil defense that fell apart after a strong start. A 75-yard catch and run by Chico McClatcher that turned into a touchdown started the rapid downfall.
Heisman candidate Jake Browning had a strong half, going 14-for-23 for 236 yards through the air after a slow start. The Sun Devils forced UW to be primarily one dimensional, as they had only 54 rushing yards in the first 30 minutes.
However, a big story was ASU’s inability to capitalize on turnovers. Kareem Orr intercepted Browning in the first half only for the offense to go backwards 18 yards on the next three plays. Maurice Chandler’s costly block in the back penalty cost Koron Crump a pick-six in the second quarter.
“We knew we needed to get takeaways,” Graham said. “We come and get two interceptions in the first half. Guys were playing hard.”
The offense’s subsequent drive started at the Washington 13-yard line, it concluded with King’s highlight reel interception of Wilkins.
Browning took advantage of the Sun Devils weak secondary by throwing a 46 yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis and then completing six passes on the next possession before Lavon Coleman ran in for a one-yard score.
It was a matter of everything that could have possibly went wrong going wrong.
Second half cements Washington’s dominance
The Huskies had the game nearly on lock after the first half, but weren’t intending on slowing down. Browning wasn’t able to rekindle the same magic that he had in the first half but stayed turnover free, which is always crucial when you are on the right side of a blowout.
Three field goals, two from UW and a 50-yarder by Zane Gonzalez, made up the entirety of the third quarter scoring.
With the game essentially on the line in the beginning stages of the fourth quarter, Wilkins used short passes to improve his chemistry with his receivers, even getting players like Fred Gammage and Kyle Williams involved.
He was able to convert a pair of fourth quarter desperation heaves to Jay Jay Wilson that brought ASU back within three possessions on a couple occasions, but the score never got closer.
“On those two touchdown passes, we were just trying to get points on the board,” Wilkins said. “It’s fourth down and you’re trying to make something happen. Jay Jay did a great job of staying alive and I just threw it up there and told him to go get it.”
The Huskies had a response each time, first when Myles Gaskin scampered for a 45-yard touchdown. Washington also took back an onside kick for six points, much like D.J. Calhoun had done earlier in the season for the Sun Devils against Cal.
Next Friday is the Territorial Cup, which ASU needs to win in order to become bowl eligible.
“This is the most important game of the year every year,” Graham said. “For our guys, for our fans and for these seniors. It’s for a bowl game for us, so it’s a big game for us.”