The stage was set up for an ugly performance Saturday afternoon at Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State University came off of a 50-17 loss seven days earlier in Berkeley.
ASU’s opponent, the Washington State Cougars (1-8, 0-6), circled this contest as their one shot at a Pac-10 conference victory.
The game was ugly if you are a Cougars fan, but from an ASU perspective, the performance on Homecoming was beautiful.
A 42-0 rout was the response Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils were looking for. The team played with passion and intensity, as well as looking fashionable in their all maroon uniforms.
From the opening kickoff, as a fan in the barren upper deck of the half-empty stadium, the team executed a statement that was necessary.
However, the naysayers’ and cynics’ response will be “ASU played Washington State.”
That does not matter to me, and for the maroon and gold fans across the valley who just endured a disgusting loss a week earlier, the opponent should mean nothing.
All season long ASU’s problems and inefficiencies have been self-inflicted. The teams lining up across the football have not overpowered ASU, other than California. However, the losses have been directly associated to turnovers, penalties, and lack of execution.
Saturday afternoon, turnovers and penalties would not even be considered a subplot.
Erickson’s team committed only five penalties for 35 yards, compared to Wazzu’s eight for 105 yards.
On defense, the Sun Devils attacked, and forced the Cougars into mistakes normally committed by the maroon and gold. Washington State turned the ball over three times. Both Junior Onyeali and LeQuan Lewis were integral parts of ASU's success on Saturday.
Lewis intercepted a pass in the back of the end zone that preserved the shutout early in the second quarter, and later lent a helping on punt coverage.
Onyeali, a freshman from Denver, had four tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles.
The hype about Vontaze Burfict two seasons ago was national news, but since Onyeali was inserted into the starting lineup against Oregon State, the opposing quarterbacks have felt the heat, and soon the rest of the conference will take note.
To add a little flavor to that point, only three players in the Pac-10 have more sacks than Onyeali and all of them are upperclassmen.
As a fan, it was great to see a defensive performance like this, but the 42 points and the offensive showcase is hard to overlook.
Offensively, the turnovers were not a story. James Morrison, ASU’s third, probably closer to fourth string running back, James Morrison fumbled with four minutes left in the game.
ASU’s execution on offense was directly attributed to starting quarterback Steven Threet.
I will say that again: ASU’s starting quarterback Steven Threet.
Maybe Threet getting his bell rung a week ago got his head on straight, because from the start of the game until Threet exited the contest after the first drive of the second half, he was lights out.
Threet was lights out. Not like “lights out” last week after getting his “bell rung” against Cal. From the first drive until Threet exited the contest early in the third quarter his performance reminded people what they saw in him during the first four games.
Threet had his first 300-yard game since the Oregon matchup in Week 4. If Threet played the remainder of the game, his numbers could have been even more inflated.
Erickson chose to start Threet after the numerous concussion tests cleared the junior signal caller earlier in the week. At the end of the night Threet completed 26-of-32 passes for exactly 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Threet was the leader on offense. However, there were many more contributors to the great showing on the field.
Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, and Kyle Middlebrooks led the Sun Devils' ground attack Saturday. The trio combined for 98 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Each of those three ASU running backs scored a rushing touchdown apiece.
The ground game was nice, but as Threet’s numbers show, the passing attack was where the highlights were made.
For the second straight week T.J. Simpson led ASU in receiving. The Peoria product caught 5 catches for 90 yards. Simpson was one of nine other Sun Devils to catch a pass.
Jamal Miles, another Peoria high school product, was the playmaker in the red zone to remedy the sickness that has held back ASU inside the 20-yard line.
Miles caught two touchdown passes to boost the Sun Devils' confidence early in the game and end any hopes for a Washington State upset.
The Sun Devils, (4-4, 2-3), scored six touchdowns on Homecoming, and freshmen or sophomores produced each score.
Think about that. Freshmen and sophomores were celebrating in the end zone with their junior quarterback. Yeah, and their grumblings about the "future of ASU's football program."
ASU’s shutout victory was the third largest in school history, just behind a 49-0 win in 1979 and a 45-0 win in 1986. The defense played up to preseason expectations, virtually for the first time this year, and the offense joined the party to complete a solid performance.
This Sun Devil team is young. Only one senior started Saturday's game, and that man was wide receiver Kerry Taylor.
The 42-0 win looks great and feels great in many ways. However, contrary to some beliefs there will be no asterisk when reading this score. Just because the opponent was Washington State does not matter.
The problems that have resulted in repeated shots in the foot were not on display.
With a looming trip to the L.A. Coliseum next Saturday, a similar performance will be desired, but will it be delivered?
A 42 to nothing win is a win any way you shape it up, and it certainly feels better than a 50-17 loss.
Fifth-year senior John Hargis entered the game in the fourth quarter. Hargis tore ligaments in his left knee during Spring practice in April. The time table for recovery was six to nine months.
Six months later with rehabilitation going according to plan, the team captain stepped onto Frank Kush Field for the first time in 2010. For Hargis, it had to be emotional for him. Hargis was rejected when applying for a medical redshirt over the Summer, and feared that his career was over.
John Hargis, “the lumberjack,” never gave up, and returned to the lineup. His goal is clearly to start and lead the big uglies in the trenches in the coming weeks, but today was the first step.
On behalf of Sun Devil fans everywhere, congratulations, John.