TEMPE, Ariz. — On a day full of upsets around college football, including a big one in the Pac-12, Arizona State left Colorado no room to spoil the Sun Devils’ designs on a Pac-12 South title.
ASU’s 54-13 win Saturday night was everything it was expected to be — a total blowout — but regardless of the opponent, the Sun Devils took an important, albeit small, step toward their conference goals.
“We dominated a team that we should dominate,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “We talked about a seven-step process, and we can check that one off and go to the next one.”
Next up: No. 16 Washington, whose only losses have come against No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon.
With that big game looming, ASU needed the break Saturday’s game offered. After a brutal four-game stretch against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame, The Sun Devils had a chance to get out some frustration and rest a bit against Colorado.
ASU took full advantage of the opportunity, pummeling a Colorado team that has now lost 11 straight Pac-12 contests. Such a win is not grounds for much celebration, but considering unranked Utah upset No. 5 Stanford shortly before ASU and Colorado kicked off, taking care of business is worth commending.
Just as Stanford’s national title aspirations were likely dashed by the loss, so too could ASU’s hopes of playing for a Rose Bowl have been crushed. No matter the opponent, Pac-12 games are must-win for teams with such goals in mind.
“The big thing was we couldn’t play to their level,” linebacker Carl Bradford said. “We really had to go out and play our game and play that game for four quarters and really give it to them and step on their throat.”
With wins over Wisconsin and USC and losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, ASU remains a bit of an enigma at the halfway mark. While next week’s game should offer a better indication of where the Sun Devils stand, Saturday’s contest did provide a few positive signs.
After its worst showing of the season against Notre Dame last week, ASU’s defense bounced back in dominant fashion, holding Colorado to 268 total yards, including just 85 in the first half when both teams’ starters were on the field. On top of that, the defense collected four takeaways, including three interceptions, and three sacks.
“We dominated them probably as bad as they’ve been dominated this year,” Graham said. “That’s going to be they key down the stretch is how well we play defense.”
Bradford broke out of an early-season funk with four tackles and 2 1/2 tackles for loss, including 1 1/2 sacks. Safety Damarious Randall grabbed his first career interception. Linebacker Chris Young registered seven tackles and two for loss (one sack) in the first quarter alone.
“It started this week in practice,” Bradford said. “Our guys were focused since Tuesday. We put in a lot of preparation and film work. We knew that we needed to step up and play Sun Devil defense. I think we did that this game.”
ASU’s run game also showed up in earnest for the first time this season, albeit against the nation’s 61st-ranked run defense. Marion Grice carried the ball 13 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns, moving him into sixth on ASU’s career touchdowns list.
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong finished with three catches for 109 yards, giving him five straight games with at least 100 receiving yards. Placekicker Zane Gonzalez went 3 for 3 on field goals, including a career-best 41-yarder.
To boot, ASU got to give its starters some extra rest. After the Sun Devils took a 47-6 lead into halftime, Kelly didn’t take a single snap in the second half, nor did Grice carry the ball.
Despite the positives and the dominant fashion in which they came, ASU spent little time enjoying the win. Graham said defensive tackle Will Sutton approached him before the Sun Devils had even left the field to say “Coach, we’ve got to go to work on Washington.” And Graham mentioned Washington more in his postgame press conference than he did Colorado.
It was clear ASU knew it had merely done what it was supposed to and quickly set its sights on the next box it must check.
“The focus in the locker room was all on Washington,” Graham said. “We know we’ve got a heck of a ball team coming in here that’s coming off two losses to two very good teams. It’s must-win for us next week.”