ASU rewind: Defense dominant in unexpected blowout
OCT 20, 2013 1:01p ET
The Sun Devils may have exposed a Huskies team that perhaps got too much credit for a season-opening win over now-unranked Boise State and hanging close with Stanford two weeks ago. Or Perhaps Washington was worn down after tough back-to-back games against Stanford and second-ranked Oregon. Regardless, beating a ranked team in such dominant fashion says something about ASU's status as a legitimate contender.
It did not say enough, apparently, to convince Associated Press voters to put the Sun Devils in the top 25. ASU was the first team left out. ASU is less concerned with rankings, though, than it is winning the Pac-12 South. That pursuit will continue in practice over the next two weeks, but first, here's a look back at the game that could prove the turning point of ASU's season.
ASU started slowly on offense, going three-and-out on its first two drives, but once the second quarter rolled around, so did the Sun Devils. ASU outscored Washington 26-0 in the quarter, at one point having racked up 29 consecutive points. The Huskies showed signs of life on their first offensive drive of the second half, but this game was over when the Devils took a 29-7 lead into halftime.
Running back Marion Grice. It seemed like Grice could have a big night against the Pac-12's eighth-ranked run defense, and he did just that, going for a career-high 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also added 34 receiving yards and a touchdown on three catches. More impressive than the numbers was the acrobatic nature of Grice's touchdown catch and the number of tackles he broke throughout the night.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton. After more criticism recently about lost explosiveness, Sutton went out and had his best game of the season. He collected three tackles for loss, including a sack, and a tipped pass. More than performance, though, Sutton was a motivator on the defense, getting everyone fired up en route to 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks in the unit's best game of the season.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
-- The defense can be as dominant as it was last season. ASU had yet to show this season it could match the dominance it showed in 2012 but did so in a big way Saturday, holding Washington to 212 total yards. In its best half of the season, the defense held the Huskies to just a touchdown in the first half.
At the heart of the defensive emergence was the defensive line. Led by Sutton, the line accounted for nine tackles for loss and four sacks.
"Those guys up front destroyed the line of scrimmage," Graham said. "That's how you play run defense. We also pressured the quarterback in a big way, too."
Washington quarterback Keith Price entered the night leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage, but under heavy pressure from ASU's defensive front all game, Price went 16 of 39 passing before leaving to get X-rays on his thumb.
ASU's tough first-half schedule may have been what this defense needed to reach its full potential, and if it keeps playing this way, the Sun Devils' chances to win the Pac-12 South would seem to be that much better.
-- ASU can defend the run after all. Up until Saturday, the Sun Devils had yet to prove they had made any progress in this area. Their run defense ranked 76th nationally entering the game and had struggled against marquee running backs. So going against national rushing leader Bishop Sankey and the 15th-ranked Washington running attack seemed a bad matchup, but ASU had an absolutely dominant day, holding the Huskies to minus-5 rushing yards. That tied for ASU's second-best defensive effort against the run in the last 18 seasons. Sankey finished with just 22 yards on 13 carries.
With that performance, ASU's run defense jumped up to 44th nationally. Moreover, it proved it has at least gotten better after a ton of offseason work and a challenging early-season schedule. That bodes well for looming matchups against UCLA and Arizona.
-- ASU may have some red-zone efficiency issues. In 10 scoring chances, ASU had to settle for a field goal four times. On three of those, ASU got inside the 10-yard line but couldn't punch the ball in. There were a few play calls that could be questioned. It turned out ASU didn't need the extra points Saturday, but there will be times when a field goal isn't enough.
The good news is that placekicker Zane Gonzalez remains very reliable. The freshman went 4 for 4 Saturday and is now 15 of 18 on the season, including 11 straight makes.
WHERE THEY STAND
After the decisive win and domination on both sides of the ball, ASU moved up in every major statistical category nationally. Here's where the Sun Devils stand with five games left in the regular season:
-- Total offense: 12th with 509.1 yards per game, which ranks third in the Pac-12 (up from 18th)
-- Total defense: 23rd with 349.3 yards allowed per game, which ranks second in the Pac-12 (up from 45th)
-- Scoring offense: 6th with 45.4 points per game (up from 10th)
-- Scoring defense: T-61st with 26.7 points allowed per game (up from 70th)
-- Rushing defense: 44th with 144.0 rushing yards allowed per game (up from 76th)
-- Passing defense: 29th with 205.3 passing yards allowed per game (up from 31st)
-- Fewest penalty yards per game: 10th with 33.57 penalty yards per game (up from 13th)
ODDS AND ENDS
-- ASU has scored 50 or more points in four games this season, the first time it has done so in 40 years. The last time an ASU team accomplished the feat was in 1973.
-- ASU's 45.4 points-per-game average is near the school record of 46.8, which was set 1972. That team scored 562 points on the season. Through seven games this year, the Sun Devils have scored 318 points.
-- After reaching the end zone three times Saturday, Grice now has 18 touchdowns on the season, which puts him five shy of breaking the ASU record for touchdowns in a season and eight shy of breaking the school record for career touchdowns (43) despite this being just his second year in Tempe as a junior college transfer.
-- Grice still leads the nation in scoring (15.4 points per game) and rushing touchdowns (12). He is also 10th nationally in all purpose yards (165.0 per game) and 17th in receiving touchdowns (6).
-- In the first quarter, ASU was charged with a penalty for having too many men on the field for the second time this season. Washington was facing a fourth down, but the penalty resulted in a first down, and the Huskies ended up scoring to take a 7-0 lead.
-- The Sun Devils are now 5-0 at home this season and 9-2 under Todd Graham. They also improved to 12-0 when leading at half time under Graham.
-- With his four field goals, Gonzalez now ranks fifth nationally in scoring (11.4 points per game). He also ranks second nationally in field goals per game.
-- ASU's 317 rushing yards were its fourth most in the past 18 seasons and second most under Graham, behind only the 380 racked up against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl last season.
-- Receiver Kevin Ozier entered the game with nine receptions on the season. He nearly doubled that total with eight catches for 88 yards.
-- Robert Nelson had another rough day on punt-return duties. Early in the game, he failed to field a short punt, which bounced another 10-15 yards to pin ASU at its own 15-yard line. Later, he fumbled on a punt return, which led to a Washington touchdown. Damarious Randall handled the last punt of the day.
ASU gets a bye week next Saturday before taking on Washington State (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) in Pullman on Oct. 31. When the teams met last season, the Sun Devils trounced the Cougars 46-7.