(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Saturday night was the perfect showcase of both sides of the Pac-12 football spectrum. Arizona State, suddenly conference bottom feeders, was introduced to what it feels like to be a conference powerhouse when they were shellacked by the Washington Huskies, 44-18.
Domination would be the one word used to describe this game. It wasn’t close at any point. The Huskies owned the Sun Devils from start to finish. When ASU did score, it was on a couple of desperation fourth down heaves. They hardly looked like the team who had started the season 4-0 and appeared poised to enter the AP rankings on multiple occasions.
Saturday night’s game put into context how vast the differences are between these two teams. The Huskies executed in every facet: They had 186 more yards on the ground and 108 more yards through the air. Sure, you can blame injuries, but even with a mostly healthy team ASU more than likely still does not win this game.
Discipline cost the Sun Devils, as some of the mistakes they made reflected the look of a 5-6 team. A.J. McCollum committed a late hit penalty shortly after a turnover, and it stalled what could have been a promising drive for the Sun Devils.
The most costly infraction came when Maurice Chandler committed a block in the back that negated an interception return for a touchdown by Koron Crump. It was a penalty that, upon further review, had no reason to be committed. Not only that, but it served as a huge momentum swing in the game, according to Todd Graham.
“I thought it was huge because we take the lead right there,” he said. “It’s tough. We had nine penalties tonight. That’s probably a record for us. But that was very, very tough.”
Chandler and his fellow secondary members were constantly burned all night by the Huskies receivers, who showed off their speed on nearly every play.
Now ASU has one game left to salvage their bowl hopes. The defense appears to be a lost cause at this point, but the key offensively may simply be the health of the offensive line. Injuries have played a key part in the Sun Devils surrendering 17 sacks over their last two games. Wilkins has experienced some uncharacteristic woes because he has often needed to scramble out of the pocket or has been given too little time to throw. It’s turned into an up-and-down year for him after a once very promising start.
While the complexion of the Pac-12 is not working in the Sun Devils favor, it has proven to be an ever-changing landscape.
Chris Petersen and Todd Graham have led their teams through opposite trajectories the past few years. Since 2014 the Huskies have gone 8-6, 7-6, and are now 10-1, while ASU went from being a 10-win team two seasons ago to having a sub-.500 record in back-to-back years.
Perhaps the best way for the Sun Devils to follow UW’s model of success is to not allow the Huskies to beat them at their own game.
Peterson and UW snatched two of the better recruits in the state of Arizona last year. Byron Murphy, a defensive back from Scottsdale, and former Paradise Valley high school quarterback Daniel Bridge-Gadd, both opted to play for the Huskies rather than their local Pac-12 school.
Murphy in particular was a huge get for UW, considering his two good friends N’Keal Harry and Chase Lucas both gave their commitments to ASU.
It was a surprising glance into the influence that Peterson has in the state.
The Huskies are also chasing after current Arizona high school seniors Austin Jackson, Tyler Johnson, K.J. Jarrell, and Isaiah Pola-Mao. It’s likely that the two teams will be locked in a bidding war for at least one of those players, and it could show if Murphy’s commitment will change the tide for good.
A locked down commitment for Graham from a coveted prize like Jackson could loom large in the long run and be a big stepping stone towards allowing the Sun Devils to get back to the same place of power they occupied just a few years ago.
Finishing on the right note is what ASU is looking at in the short-term, but in the long run they could find success by modeling themselves after this year’s Washington team.