Tables are turned: ASU football wins, UA & NAU stumble
The Arizona State football team played through a downpour in Seattle on Saturday to break a three-game losing streak with a convincing 24-14 rain-drenched win over the Washington Huskies. Now the Sun Devils get a week off to dry out and rest up before meeting California.
But the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona didn’t fare as well. Both were riding high going into last weekend, as the Wildcats were undefeated this season and the Lumberjacks’ only loss was at the hands of ASU.
UofA was ranked No. 9 in the country when Oregon State handed the Cats a 29-27 loss in front of a sold-out home crowd in Tucson, while NAU burned through two quarterbacks but still fell to No. 13 Eastern Washington, 21-14, on the Eagles’ turf.
The Wildcats have dropped to No. 17 (AP) in the polls and NAU fell from its No. 24 ranking.
Out of the three schools, unranked Arizona State probably needed the win the most, coming off three straight losses and in the middle of a tough, three-game road trip. But one of the most penalized teams in the country, prone to mistakes and turnovers, settled down just in time.
The Sun Devils turned the ball over just once, limited penalties to four for just 31 yards, and snapped an eight-game losing streak against Pac-10 opponents.
Saturday’s game wasn’t played in front of the home-town faithful, but there were plenty watching nonetheless. The ASU-Washington game was once again the most-watched college football game in Phoenix – for the third weekend in a row.
And the Devils didn’t disappoint the 86,524 fans who tuned in to Fox Sports Arizona – although that’s still about 20,000 fewer than show up in person for a game at the ‘Big House’ at the University of Michigan, where ASU’s junior quarterback used to play.
Steven Threet, the Wolverine transfer, threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the Washington game, to help the maroon and gold to an offensive effort that ran up a total 387 yards.
And the Devil defense, with fifth-year team captain Gerald Munns starting at middle linebacker in place of Vontaze Burfick, took care of business on its side of the ball. They stopped the Huskies on nine of 14 third-down conversion attempts and held Washington’s prolific quarterback to just six yards on 11 rushing attempts – and sacked him twice.
The Sun Devils can use this bye week to get ready for their last six games. They need to win four of those to become bowl eligible for the first time since head coach, Dennis Erickson, arrived three years ago.
But the Wildcats already had their bye week – and it did help.
After being held to just 99 yards of rushing offense and being able to put just one touchdown on the board in their 10-9 win over California, the Cats took a week off. When they returned, their offensive punch was back, but it wasn’t enough.
The Cats ran up 541 yards of total offense, with junior receiver Juron Criner accounting for 179 yards by himself. And the 440 passing yards by their junior quarterback, Nick Foles, was the fifth-most total in school history.
But Arizona also gave up 490 total yards of offense to the Beavers, and their quarterback, Ryan Katz, had a huge night. The Beavers’ first-year starter completed 30-of-42 for 393 yards and a pair of TDs.
The lead see-sawed in a great game for the fans, with OSU striking first on a 68-yard scoring drive right out of the chute and Arizona accounting for the last one with 1:52 left to play.
Arizona has enjoyed four straight home games, but will now take to the road to take on Washington State in Pullman. It will be only the second road game of the season for the Cats.
It should also present an opportunity for the Cats’ running backs to get some exposure, as WSU is currently in last place nationally in defending against the run. Last year, the Cats ran for 294 yards against the Beaver defense, and piled up 317 yards the previous year.
Meanwhile, Northern Arizona is coming in off the road, ready to meet Montana State in its first home game since Sept. 2.
Last week, the Lumberjacks faced off with No. 13 Eastern Washington, which moved up to No. 12 this week. Now they have to move up the ladder a little farther as they host tenth-ranked Montana State.
The Jacks were able to contain Eastern Washington’s running back, Taiwon Jones, who is leading the nation in all-purpose yardage and averaging 129 points a game. Jones got just 48 yards against the NAU defense, but the Eagles’ quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell, took apart their secondary as he went 20-for-26 for 288 yards and three scores.
NAU head coach Jerome Souers sat his starting quarterback, Michael Herrick, after three interceptions in the first half. His replacement, Chasen Stangel, responded with an 11-play drive that resulted in the Jacks’ first score of the game in the third quarter.
The Jacks made it to the Eastern 38-yard-line on their final drive before giving up the ball with under four minutes left to wrap up their final scoring threat.
Saturday’s opponent, Montana State, is sitting at the top of the Big Sky Conference and undefeated in conference play (3-0) and 5-1 overall. The Bobcats ran up 44 points in a win over Portland State last week, and amassed 64 points the week before against Sacramento State.
The Jacks’ defense will have to pull out a repeat performance this week as they try to hold down MSU’s Orenzo Davis, who ran for 135 yards on 14 carries against Portland State.
There should be a good crowd on hand at the Walkup Skydome, since this is the annual Family Weekend game.
And the Lumberjacks will likely need all the help they can get.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)