Coming off its first loss since September, Arizona State could ill afford to find themselves with another tough conference test this week. Luckily, the Sun Devils will play host to Washington State on Saturday, and the Cougars' 2-5 conference record bodes well for Arizona State. However, Washington State does own a 39-32 win over Oregon State, the team that recently derailed the Sun Devils' season.
Washington State has boasted one of the nation's most prolific passing offenses in the past few seasons under Mike Leach with quarterback Connor Halliday under center. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Halliday's stellar college career came to an abrupt close on Nov. 1, when the redshirt senior got caught under USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, breaking his fibula and ending his career in Pullman.
Washington State, despite its reputation as bottom-feeder in the conference, actually played the Sun Devils competitively for the early decades of the Pac-10, collecting four straight wins over Arizona State from 1991-1994. The Cougars also welcomed Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter to the Pac-10 by beating him in each of his first three years as head coach of the Sun Devils. Those stretches, however, are the only stretches in which Washington State has asserted consistent control over the Sun Devils, as Arizona State leads the all-time series 26-13-2, and have won nine of the past ten matchups the two schools have had.
Hosting Arizona State last season, the Cougars were priming themselves for a top-25 upset. With the game taking place on Halloween night, Washington State cancelled classes the day of in preparation for the Sun Devils, and a win over No. 25 Arizona State would have been a landmark win for Halliday and Leach. However, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly had other ideas, and the redshirt junior turned in possibly his best performance as a Sun Devil. Operating the read-option to perfection, Kelly rushed for two early touchdowns, and his 11-yard strike to Jaelen Strong put Arizona State in commanding position after the first quarter with a 21-0 lead. Strong's touchdown was set up by a Robert Nelson fumble return, as Arizona State safety Alden Darby stripped Gabe Marks and Nelson jumped on it at the Cougar 39-yard line.
Washington State scored an early touchdown in the second quarter on Marks' 34-yard touchdown catch from Halliday, but Arizona State answered with a flurry of touchdowns that would put the game out of reach by halftime. Kelly's 7-yard pass to D.J. Foster put Arizona State up 28-7, and Kelly's quick-strike 51-yard pass to Richard Smith padded the Sun Devil lead to 35-7. Chris Coyle added a 8-yard touchdown catch of his own, and the Washington State student section that had all day to prepare for the Sun Devils began to empty before halftime, as the Sun Devils lead 42-14. Kelly accounted for six touchdowns in the first half.
With the game's outcome already determined, Todd Graham and the Sun Devils took their foot off the pedal in the second half, but Foster found his way back to the end zone with another touchdown reception, this time coming on a 23-yard pass. The touchdown would be the last Arizona State would score on the night, and after a pair of fourth-quarter Zane Gonzalez field goals, the Sun Devils walked out with a 55-21 win. Kelly totaled seven touchdowns on the night, and was also the game's leading rusher with 13 carries for 66 yards and two scores.