Depleated Sun Devils cannot keep pace with Cougars
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Washington State coach Mike Leach earned himself a big fine and some harsh words from Arizona State coach Todd Graham after accusing the Sun Devils of stealing signs this week.
Even if the Sun Devils knew what was coming, they had a hard time stopping Luke Falk and the Cougars.
Falk threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns, helping Washington State hold off Arizona State 37-32 Saturday night in a game punctuated by heated words during the coaches' postgame handshake.
"I respectfully decline on grounds that I might be publicly reprimanded and fined, so any questions about them I really don't plan to answer," said Leach, who repeated the refrain four times.
Leach irritated the Sun Devils and Graham this week by repeating a comment from last season about Arizona State stealing signs. Washington and Oregon both used sheets to block their signs from Arizona State last season, so the sign-stealing accusations were nothing new.
But the Pac-12 came down hard on Leach for his comments this time, hitting the coach with a $10,000 fine. Graham retorted during the week and again during the postgame handshake, using a pair of expletives picked up by TV cameras that sent Leach walking away, but would not elaborate when asked about the encounter after the game.
"That's between me and him," Graham said.
Washington State (5-2, 4-0 Pac-12) had more trouble with Arizona State's defensive scheme in the first quarter, unable to get anything going as the Sun Devils dropped deep into coverage and forced Falk to throw underneath.
Once Falk adjusted, he picked the Sun Devils (5-3, 2-3) apart, leading the Cougars to 28 straight points, a run triggered by Robert Taylor's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Falk hit Tavares Martin on a 9-yard TD late in the second quarter and Jamal Morrow on a 3-yard score in the third. The junior also laid the ball in perfectly for Gabe Marks, who became Washington State's all-time receptions leader, on a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Cougars up 37-21.
Falk completed passes to 11 different receivers and connected on 42 of 53 overall to keep Washington State tied atop the Pac-12 North Division with No. 5 Washington after its fifth straight win.
"We started off slow. That's on me," Falk said. "You've got to put the ball in play and give it to our playmakers, but ultimately we did a nice job of having a gutsy win and finishing the game."
Arizona State was down to its fourth-string quarterback after Manny Wilkins was injured on the opening drive and had four other starters out. The Sun Devils still managed to lead by 11 early and clawed most of their way back from a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Tim White had a 70-yard touchdown on a punt return and Zane Gonzalez hit a 29-yard field goal to pull Arizona State within 37-32. But Falk and the Cougars ground down the game's final 4:36.
Wilkins ran for a 3-yard touchdown by hurdling a defender -- his third hurdle of the season -- before going out and freshman Sterling Dillon-Cole completed 7 of 16 passes for 86 yards in his place.
"Dillon did what he could do, he played with heart and all we had to do as an offense is keep him motivated and confident because you never know what can happen on the last series of the game," White said.
Arizona State was banged up heading into Saturday and it only got worse as the game wore on.
The Sun Devils were missing two starters from their offense, Sam Jones and AJ McCollum, and safety Armand Perry was out with a turf toe injury.
Wilkins did not play after the first series and linebacker Salamo Fiso, one of the keys to Arizona State's defense, had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter.
Washington State: The Cougars have come a long way since their 0-2 start to the season, keeping themselves on course for a season-ending showdown against the rival Huskies that could decide the Pac-12 North.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils' struggles against the pass continue and their offense could be in more trouble if Wilkins continues to miss time. Arizona State has lost three of four.
Washington State plays at Oregon State next Saturday.
Arizona State plays at Oregon next Saturday.