The Arizona State Sun Devils played arguably one of their worst halves of football in recent history Saturday against the Washington Huskies, but were able to overcome a stagnant offensive first-half effort to muster the 27-17 win.
It was not that ASU couldn't do anything right in the first half, it was that ASU couldn't do anything.
The Sun Devils were plagued by missed tackles and couldn't muster up anything of substance on the offensive side of the ball. ASU couldn't get a first down until nine minutes into the first quarter.
The Sun Devil defense was no different, continuously giving up big plays that sucked every ounce of momentum out of Sun Devil Stadium. This began on the first play of the game when Husky quarterback Jake Browning connected with receiver Jaydon Mickens for 21 yards.
ASU's opening drive on the other hand was composed of two short runs and a sack for a loss of seven that sent the ball, along with the momentum, back to the Huskies.
The Sun Devils held Washington to three on its second possession when a short run and two incompletions saw Husky kicker Cameron Van Winkle make a 35-yarder to start out the scoring.
After another three-and-out for the Sun Devils on the ensuing drive, Huskies running back Myles Gaskin found a hole in the secondary and pushed off two Sun Devil defenders to rush 53 yards to ASU's 1-yard line. Gaskin punched it in on the next play and put the Huskies up 10-0 to cap a seven-play, 77-yard drive that spanned 1:37.
The Sun Devils still didn't have an answer however, punting seven of their eight possessions in the first half of play, and only accumulated 36 yards on the ground by the end of the half.
The Huskies added another seven to their total before going into the locker room on a 29-yard Browning pass to receiver Darrell Daniels who was wide-open in the back of the end zone as a result of blown coverage by the ASU secondary. The Sun Devils could only muster a 40-yard field goal after a failed trick-play attempt for the rest of the half to cut the deficit to 17-3, but it wasn't anything that would instill hope in Sun Devil fans for the second half.
But despite the loss of key players Jordan Simone (knee) and Laiu Moeakiola (shoulder) in the first half, the second half was a big improvement. The Sun Devils scored 14 unanswered points behind running back Kalen Ballage, who marched into the end zone after two 20+ yard receptions and pair of short runs, and receiver Devin Lucien, who slipped into the end zone unscathed on a two-minute, seven-play drive, to notch the score back up at 17 with 13:52 left in regulation.
Ironically, the Sun Devils took the lead for the first time in the game in the fourth quarter, something they normally watch opponents do to them, on a 23-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal to put the Sun Devils up 20-17 with eight minutes to play.
All the suppressed Sun Devil energy came alive in the final six minutes of the game, sparked by a Kweishi Brown interception on ASU's own 36-yard line and a 26-yard return that set ASU up at the Washington 48-yard line. One play later and Ballage steamrolled his way into the end zone carrying a Husky defender on his back to put the Sun Devils up 27-17 with six minutes remaining.
Browning's tendency to overthrow his receivers finally caught up with him on the night in the fourth quarter, as ASU linebacker Christian Sam snagged another interception to inflate his team with the momentum needed to overcome an abysmal first-half effort and close out the contest in the win column.
The Sun Devils now only need one win out of the last two regular season games to make themselves bowl eligible. ASU will host rival Arizona next Saturday for a 1:30 kickoff.