After Saturday’s huge upset win over No. 4 Washington, the Arizona State Sun Devils have a legitimate argument that they just might be the best three-loss college football team in the country.
And the 13-7 win also helps their head coach make an argument for keeping his job.
Todd Graham needed a big win after coming off back-to-back losing seasons and a 2-3 start to this season. And this upset definitely qualifies for that. It’s the first time in 21 years that an ASU team has knocked off a top-5 program.
It also puts the Sun Devils in a tie for second place in the Pac-12 South.
So dominant was the defense that the Huskies didn’t get their lone touchdown until the final 5 1/2 minutes of a game that had already lasted three hours. ASU had all 13 of its points by halftime, seven off a quick score on its first possession of the game, a one-yard plunge into the end zone by Kalen Ballage that capped a 16-play drive, and then a pair of field goals by freshman Brandon Ruiz — one of them from 52 yards out.
The defense kept the pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Browning going into the second half and kept the Huskies’ running game in check. For the entire game, Washington logged just two runs of more than 20 yards, and completed just three out of 14 third-down conversion attempts.
Redshirt junior linebacker Christian Sam led the assault with 11 tackles.
“We showed them blitz and then we would rush three, and then sometimes we would rush a different three,” Graham said in providing a peek into his defensive game plan. “It was masterful. Coach (Phil) Bennett (defensive coordinator) and the staff did a great job and made great adjustments.”
But he stressed the importance of the offensive strategy and defensive play in the first half: “We had 42 plays in the first half on offense. That was exactly our game plan. They ran 20.”
While the run game struggled to provide the explosiveness needed to punch up the final score (40 yards total), quarterback Manny Wilkins kept the chains moving with his arm, completing 29 passes for 245 yards. The Devils’ offense ground out enough yardage to keep the Huskies off the field, enjoying a ball-possession advantage of almost 10 minutes.
Giving credit to his offense, Graham pointed out: “That’s probably as good a defense as we’ve played against since I’ve been here. They were really, really good.
“I thought Coach (Billy) Napier (offensive coordinator) and the offense did a great job. We went 100 percent ball security, we took care of the ball, had one penalty, kept the ball, punted it away, didn’t let number eight (Dante Pettis) be a factor in the return game. We kicked balls out of the end zone. We covered kicks well.
“It was just a great night.”
After spreading the credit around, Graham had one last person to acknowledge. He gave the game ball to his wife, Penny.
“She deserves it,” he said. “She’s sacrificed a lot for me to do this.”
(Photo: ASU Athletics)