Arizona State came into their matchup against Washington State having lost four straight. The Cougars had not won a conference game all year. In the end, it was ASU who got back on the right track with a 46-7 victory.
“I want to be known for defense,” ASU head coach Todd Graham told the media at his weekly press conference Monday. “A dominating defense,” he reiterated after today’s game. They took a big step toward that Saturday afternoon; defense is exactly what this game will be known for.
Washington State was held to three-and-outs on their first two drives of the game, including three tackles-for-loss, giving the Sun Devils excellent field position on both of their opening drives- the WSU 6-yard line and the WSU 41-yard line. That led to a field goal and a touchdown that was followed by a two-point conversion. It set the tone for the entire game.
What the Sun Devils did to start the game was critical. After scuffling the last four games, the defense came out and set the tone early, and gave the offense fantastic field position.
The defense was so effective that they forced starting quarterback Jeff Tuel from the game after he went 8-16 for 67 yards and an interception. Redshirt Sophomore Connor Halliday entered not even halfway into the second quarter. Halliday was no more effective, going 13-33 for 173 yards with an interception and a touchdown, with 87 of the yards and the touchdown coming on the last drive when they were down 46-0.
The Sun Devils also recorded seven sacks and racked up ten tackles-for-loss. They were especially potent on third down, holding WSU to a 1-16 conversion rate. “I’m proud to be their head coach,” Graham said of his stalwart defense.
The offense did what it needed to do. Washington State was an inferior team, and Arizona State did an excellent job of scoring early and ending the game before the Cougars had a chance to get into it.
QB Taylor Kelly regained the form that let the Sun Devils surge to a 5-1 start, as he went 20-23 for 246 yards and 4 touchdowns. It was just the kind of game that Kelly and the Sun Devils needed to get ready for next week.
Arizona State wraps up its season against Arizona as they travel to Tucson Friday night for the Territorial Cup. U of A currently sits at a 6-4 record with Utah still to play tonight. Next weekend’s game kicks off at 8 PM MST, as ASU will hope to do no worse than tie their in-state rivals while salvaging a winning season. In their weight room they have a large “Beat Cats” banner and when asked what comes to mind when he thinks about the Wildcats, senior linebacker Brandon Magee responded, “I don’t really care. I just want to beat them.”
The win snapped a four-game losing streak. “Getting the win coming off all those losses felt great,” Magee said. “Especially on Senior Day, you have to go out the right way, and we went out the right way.”