Oregon St.-Arizona St. Preview
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
Arizona State has shown it can win on the road, close out tight games and win in November.
Compared to previous seasons, this is definitely progress for the 21st-ranked Sun Devils.
Arizona State looks for its first five-game winning streak within the same season for the first time since 2007 on Saturday night when it hosts an Oregon State team that's thrived on the road.
With four straight wins - the first three of which came by a total of 104 points - the key now for Arizona State is to finish it off. The Sun Devils are in control of the Pac-12 South and to reach their goal of winning the Pac-12 championship, they can't let up or it could end up as just another good-but-not-great season.
"You have a tendency when you have success, everybody's kind of patting you on the back and you think you've done it, but we haven't done anything," Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said Monday during his weekly news conference. "Win the next four games and you've done something."
Arizona State (7-2, 5-1) has made marked progress in its second season under Graham.
A year ago, the Sun Devils started strong and faded with a four-game losing streak, unable to pull out tight victories or win big games on the road. Arizona State finished strong, winning its final three games, but fell short of its goals.
The Sun Devils again got off to a solid start this season and have built upon it with a string of impressive wins.
Since a three-point loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 5, Arizona State has rattled off four program-changing victories - its longest streak within a season since going 8-0 to open 2007.
After cruising by Colorado 54-13 on Oct. 12, Arizona State, which had trouble against ranked teams in recent years, blew out then-No. 20 Washington 53-24 at Sun Devil Stadium on Oct. 19.
The Sun Devils tossed aside another perception - they can't win road games late in the season - by crushing Washington State 55-21 in Pullman.
The topper came this past weekend, when Arizona State grinded out a 20-19 win over Utah, proving the Washington State game was no fluke and that it could win when things get tight.
The Sun Devils pulled out the win in Salt Lake City by overcoming a sluggish start with a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives to beat a team that knocked off Stanford and played close games against UCLA and Oregon State at home.
That was a big step for a program that had gone 4-15 in games decided by a touchdown or less the previous five seasons and was 4-12 in November the previous four.
"We've had a lot of games this season that weren't close and I love those, those are great, but the reality is you're going to be in a lot of close ones and you've got to be able to win them," Graham said.
Arizona State has lost four of its past five against Oregon State (6-3, 4-2), including a 36-26 defeat in Corvallis in Graham's first season as the Sun Devils' head coach. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly went 22 for 41 for just 153 yards with a TD and an interception in that game.
After winning six straight, the Beavers come into Tempe off a pair of home losses - 20-12 to No. 5 Stanford at home on Oct. 26 and 31-14 to USC on Nov. 1. The passing game was an issue in each, as Sean Mannion was sacked eight times against the Cardinal and threw three picks against the Trojans.
Coach Mike Riley promised his team would bounce back from the loss to USC.
"This group will come back very strong to get ready for Arizona State," Riley said. "There is no doubt about it. This is a quality group of young men, the same men that we were winning six in a row with. They work really hard and they're not going to be controlled by their circumstances, they're just going to keep fighting."
The Beavers have been at their best this season on the road, averaging 46.5 points while going 4-0 away from Corvallis.
None of their victims were ranked, however, and Oregon State is just 3-10 against Top 25 opponents on the road since 2008. One of those losses came two years ago in Tempe, as the No. 25 Sun Devils picked off Mannion four times in a 35-20 win.