Arizona State did exactly what was demanded in their road trip to Seattle. No one believed the victory was going to be easy to capture, especially in a downpour, but Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils returned to sunny Tempe with a much needed win.
The Sun Devils played a virtual must win game with precision. Sounds funny to say about a turnover-happy and heavily penalized squad thus far in 2010, right?
But in actuality the negatives and shortcomings of the ASU Sun Devils this season were a non-issue. Maybe the turnovers and penalties were blind to the eye for 60 minutes at Husky Stadium, but if that is the case each Saturday then Sun Devil fans will be smiling every time.
Saturday night ASU had only one turnover, four penalties for 31 yards and nearly 400 yards of offense (387).
From the second possession of the game for ASU, fans knew the Sun Devils came to win, at all costs. ASU offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and quarterback Steven Threet dialed up a 14-play, 92-yard drive to break the deadlock in Seattle.
Sure the play number and yard total are both nice, but the final result in the red zone was the difference from previous weeks’ poor display. Threet and Gerell Robinson connected on a good-looking bootleg play at the goal line.
ASU had enough of a running game to sell the play action passes. Although the big plays were not raining down on the field from Deantre Lewis or Cameron Marshall, the play production on the ground was consistent.
Even Kyle Middlebrooks, a freshman running back from Fountain Valley High School, made an impact in his first major playing time.
Middlebrooks averaged 8.3 yards per carry against the Huskies and showed the Pac-10 defensive coordinators just another offensive weapon for the maroon and gold.
As the ground game picked up solid production, Threet engineered a nearly perfect passing attack in miserable conditions.
If you have ever tried to throw a wet football, whether it is brand new or worn out, and everything in between, it is difficult. Coaches try to simulate rainy conditions with water bottles and drenching the balls, but it is never the same.
Threet did as good of a job with the football in the game Saturday as anyone could expect from the Michigan native. Threet was the leader on offense, as he was through the three-game slide. No. 14 came to play, and his numbers proved that (21 of 34 for 288 yards and two TD, one INT).
Threet also added a one yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown.
Threet played with confidence, and that confidence spread across the entire team. The receivers were catching balls that were dropped in perfect conditions a week earlier in Corvallis. Offensive linemen were holding onto their blocks longer, and played with a tenacity that was lost in previous weeks, and everyone played smart.
Everything seemed to be clicking for ASU.
ASU totaled 387 yards on offense and 24 points, and that point total could have been more.
Sun Devil kicker Tom Weber missed two field goals in the contest, but widened the margin to 10 points late in the fourth quarter. Weber is now 9 of 14 field goal attempts on the season, far removed from his 2007 Lou Groza Award winning form.
But even with score being tight throughout the contest, ASU always seemed to be in control.
The offense was in good form and the defense stepped up, even without their All-American candidate, Vontaze Burfict. Burfict played sparingly, and the fifth-year senior captain, Gerald Munns filled in admirably as most expected. This was not Munns’ first rodeo, and he showed that.
With a solid leader in the middle, ASU made the difference when it mattered most: Third down and fourth down. The Sun Devils stopped Washington on nine of 14 third down conversions and three of five fourth down conversions.
Sure ASU gave up 354 yards but, Craig Bray’s defense displayed a “bend but don’t break” style in only yielding 14 points.
One might say Erickson made some pretty good decisions this past week. The benching of Burfict was a positive for the program, and the team especially on the field. The non-benching of Steven Threet, after the cynics and skeptics came roaring out after the loss to Oregon State, was a good decision.
And possibly the best decision of the week, starting true freshman Junior Onyeali. The freshman from Denver had one sack and two tackles for a loss, and sparked a rejuvenated ASU pass rush.
How about making plays when it matters the most? Omar Bolden intercepted Washington quarterback Jake Locker to seal the victory for ASU.
Although the interception was huge, the 11 carries that Jake Locker had were more important.
One week earlier at the L.A. Coliseum, Locker passed for 310 yards and 112 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
As I mentioned, Locker had 11 carries versus the Sun Devils and ASU allowed only six yards rushing. Yes, six yards rushing on 11 attempts.
Is that more of a credit to ASU’s defense, USC’s lack of defense, or Locker struggling in the conditions? Maybe a combination of all three, but the bottom line Saturday night as the clock hit zero was ASU came out victorious.
Erickson’s team, coaches and fans knew that a win was necessary. A win was what ASU earned. Although the setting was not exactly picturesque, the Sun Devils played a gorgeous looking game.
A 24-14 victory over Washington is not exactly a big win over a big-time program, but after three-straight losses any win is a great win.
Now Dennis Erickson and his Sun Devils now have a week to improve on the positives, erase the negatives that are still evident, and prepare for an improving California Bears team that is now 3-2 and looking good doing it.
Arizona State now sits at 3-3 (1-2 in Pac-10), which now forces the Sun Devils to win four of their remaining six games to earn a bowl berth.
Is it a stiff challenge for the Sun Devils? Absolutely, but nothing in football comes easy. Heading into the bye week, a win was a must.
The Sun Devil’s season will now be defined over the next six games: @ California, Washington State, @ USC, Stanford, UCLA and @ rival Arizona.
Do you see four wins over that stretch?
Nonetheless, ASU will play the games on the field, not paper, so anything is possible. If the Sun Devils play the remainder of the season with similar performances as the Washington game, that elusive bowl berth of the past two seasons might just be within reach.