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Arizona State becomes bowl-eligible with 55-21 victory over Washington State

The Sun Devils improved to 6-2 with a thorough demolition of the Washington State Cougars.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State needed to silence its critics with a strong road performance against Washington State on Thursday night, and the Sun Devils needed less than a quarter to do just that.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly engineered three first quarter scoring drives and Arizona State never looked back in its 55-21 victory against the Cougars. Kelly accounted for six first half touchdowns including two rushing scores that helped put the game out of reach by halftime.

Defensively, Arizona State forced three consecutive three-and-outs to open the game and safety Alden Darby forced a fumble on the Cougars' fourth drive that handed the ball right back to the Sun Devils and gave Kelly a chance to up the lead to three scores.

After Washington State cut the deficit to 21-7 early in the second quarter, Kelly led three more scoring drives that included passing touchdowns to D.J. Foster, Rick Smith, and Chris Coyle. Smith's was the most improbable touchdown of the night as he had a defensive back draped all over him and bobbled the ball in the air before hauling in the 51-yard touchdown reception.

Armed with a 42-7 lead, Arizona State looked poised to head into the locker room at halftime with all of the momentum. Instead, Connor Halliday marched the Cougar offense right down the field and hit Rickey Galvin for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left before the half.

Washington State's defense opened the second half with a stop and Halliday proceeded to breathe life into the Cougars yet again. The junior quarterback capped off an efficient drive by handing off to running back Jeremiah Laufasa who walked into the end zone untouched on a 4-yard touchdown run.

Down 42-21, the Cougars needed a stop to stay in the game. Washington State got exactly that on the Sun Devils' next drive, but Todd Graham dialed up a fake punt and Carl Bradford took off for 21 yards on a fourth down conversion that put the game out of reach.

Following the successful fake, Kelly connected with D.J. Foster on a 23-yard touchdown over the middle of the field that swung the momentum back in the favor of the Sun Devils for good.

Just for good measure, Alex Garoutte took off on a fake punt on the Sun Devils' next drive and picked up the first down. Kicker Zane Gonzalez validated Garoutte's decision by knocking home his 12th consecutive field goal to give Arizona State a 52-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Midway through the quarter, Gonzalez added another field goal to push Arizona State's lead to 55-21. The Sun Devils were able to hold the Cougar offense and then run out the rest of the clock to finish off their fourth conference victory.

The Sun Devils entered Thursday's game averaging 45.4 points per game and they were able to add to that total against Washington State. Arizona State hung 50 points on an opponent for the fifth time in eight games this season and it marked the second time the Sun Devils have done so away from Sun Devil Stadium under Todd Graham.

Arizona State also recorded one of its most balanced offensive performances this season. Of the 557 total yards, 275 came on the ground and 282 came through the air. The Sun Devils will have to rely on their balance as they take on the Utah Utes next Saturday in their quest to win the Pac-12 South.