On a crisp Halloween evening in Pullman, WA, Arizona State (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) played tricks on on Washington State (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) to earn a conference victory by a final score of 55-21.
The Sun Devils raced out to a huge lead in the first quarter by putting three touchdowns on the scoreboard in their first four possessions.
For those who had questions about whether or not ASU could play well on the road, Arizona State looked sharp, composed and aggressive. They never let the Cougs get into a rhythm or in a position where the final outcome was in doubt.
How did the Sun Devils do it?
The combination of better team speed, more tempo, more experience and some great calls by Coach Todd Graham left no doubt ASU was the better team on this Thursday night.
Coach Mike Leach and his staff had extra time to prepare for this game thanks to a bye week. Instead of looking fresh and having benefited from 8-games of experience this season, WSU began sluggish and tentative on offense and stunned defensively.
Down 21-0, the Cougs finally found the endzone on the first play of the second quarter when Connor Halliday hit Gabe Marks on a quick slant. Marks took what was going to be about a 10-yard completion and juked his way across the field finishing with a dive inside the pile on for a 34-yard touchdown.
There was still plenty of work to be done if WSU was to get back in the game, trailing 21-7 with three quarters of football to play.
Momentum visited Washington State for a precious few moments before the Cougar offense gave the ball right back to ASU after three plays and a punt.
From that point Arizona State did what good teams do. You don’t let your opponent gain confidence.
A well executed 9-play 62-yard drive returned momentum to the Sun Devils. Most importantly, the scoreboard read ASU 28 – WSU 7.
The Cougs would give up two more touchdowns while scoring one of their own before halftime leaving a scoring gap the size of the Grand Canyon between the two teams.
Coach Leach has persistently reminded his players to play with effort, execution and focus for all 60-minutes of every game.
Down by 35-points at halftime, WSU came out in the second half as though the game was theirs for the taking.
The Cougar offense got possession quickly because their defense stiffened and denied ASU to put together a drive opening the second half of play.
Halliday made the most of the opportunity by leading his team on an 8-play 74-yard touchdown drive.
Things were beginning to look up for WSU when it appeared they stalled the next possession for ASU near mid-field. Coach Graham called for a fake punt which was executed to perfection to keep their drive alive. Two plays later the Sun Devils were lighting up the scoreboard again.
Kickoff coverage for ASU was outstanding the entire game. The following kickoff was no exception. pinning Halliday and the offense deep on the WSU 16 which resulted in a three-and-out.
Despite good field position, it looked as if the Cougar ‘D’ would stifle the offensive machine of Arizona State.
On 4th and 4 on their own 37, the chances of trying a fake punt on consecutive drives were as likely as a Cougar comeback. Well, Coach Graham set up another improbable trick play which worked to perfection. ASU retained possession and pushed the margin out to 52-21.
Arizona State left no questions about whether or not they have what it takes to play great football. Twelve of their twenty-two starters are seniors and certainly played like it giving their fans a treat on Halloween.
The Sun Devils won the battle for field position. They converted 7 of 14 third down plays to keep drives alive. Officials flagged them for just 4 penalties. Those are key components for a Pac-12 victory.
Halliday was not able to overcome poor field position which time and again left him trying to put together 80+ yard drives against the No. 2 ranked defense in the Pac-12.
For fans of Cougar football, the outcome was less than expected.
Coach Leach will work to continue teaching his student-athletes what they have to do to improve. WSU heads into another bye week allowing extra time and preparation to make a final run at earning the right to play an extra game in December.
Their goal is still within reach.
A bowl game in 2013?
It’s still on the table.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- WSU had 10+ receivers record a catch for the seventh straight game, have had 10+ receivers catch a pass in eight games this season
- Jeremiah Laufasa rushed for his seventh touchdown of the season, most by a Cougar running back since Jerome Harrison’s WSU single season record 16 in 2005
- Deone Bucannon made 12 tackles to up his career total to 355, fourth-most in WSU history. Bucannon recorded his 14th career interception, tied for third-most in WSU history
- Xavier Cooper made his team-leading fourth sack of the season
- Connor Halliday threw two touchdown passes, he now has 44 in his career, sixth-most in WSU history. Halliday passed for 300 yards, giving him 3,098 for the season, the first 3,000-yard season since Alex Brink in 2007. He tallied his 11th career 300-yard game and sixth this season