Two struggling teams looking to build their bowl resume took to the field Saturday in Tempe, and despite an explosive Washington attack and mounting injuries, the ASU defense held strong in the second half while the offense did just enough to upend the Huskies 27-17.
With the victory ASU climbs to 5-5 and one win away from bowl eligibility with two left to play. Here are our five takeaways from the Sun Devils' win.
1. When the running game is working, ASU doesn't need Berco at his best
Most people reading a box score that shows only 253 yards and one touchdown for Mike Bercovici would arrive at the conclusion that Bercovici and the Sun Devils were simply overwhelmed by the opposition. And for the most part on Saturday, Bercovici wasn't on top of his game.
However, Kalen Ballage was, and he ran like a mad man against Washington, shedding three tacklers on a thunderous 48-yard touchdown run that extended the Sun Devil lead to ten and put the game out of reach for the Huskies.
With its defense playing like it did and the special teams dominating the field position game, all ASU needs is an efficient Bercovici to keep defenses honest, but it's the running game that is the key to the offense's success.
2. Jake Browning's not going anywhere
He may have thrown three interceptions in the second half that were instrumental to ASU's comeback, but Jake Browning showed why Chris Petersen installed him as the Day 1 starter as a true freshman. With the interceptions also came 405 yards and multiple throws that showed impressive anticipation and awareness.
He was forced to evade pressure on nearly every play and did so valiantly. Considering that he ran a spread offense in high school and made every throw before pressure could come near him, seeing him grow as an all-around quarterback is scary.
Much of the hype surrounding young quarterbacks in the conference has surrounded UCLA's Josh Rosen, and for good reason. But with Browning as its signal-caller, Washington's going to be a serious contender for the conference over the next few seasons.
3. Expect to see more of the Manny package
It was only one play, but Manny Wilkins finally received a meaningful snap. That's something the redshirt freshman hasn't received many of this season, as early non-conference games that normally a Pac-12 team would win comfortably enough to get the backup some experience in turned out to be competitive for the Sun Devils.
His only play was a pass for no gain, and a Nick Kelly penalty moved ASU back 15 yards anyways, prompting Graham to throw Berco back in. But seeing Wilkins out there in the thick of a competitive game shows that Graham is trying to see what he has in the former three-star recruit.
ASU isn't competing for the playoff, nor the conference, and really winning a lowly bowl game and finishing with a winning record is about all the Sun Devils have left to play for. Todd Graham took a risk when he chose to go for it all with one year with Berco rather than do as Washington or UCLA have done in getting their young guns experience, and it's going to come back to bite him if his next quarterback struggles.
Wilkins should see more time in these last few games in various gadget and option packages.
4. Smallwood might be team's best sophomore
The backbone of ASU is in their senior captains but the muscle of ASU is in their sophomores. Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and D.J. Calhoun are the most well-known of the bunch but defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood is shaping up to stand out from the rest of his sophomore peers.
He's been staying after practice this season on his own doing one-on-one work after all of his teammates have left, and that paid off with a huge sack of Browning yesterday for ten yards that set up ASU's game-winning drive. A four-star recruit out of high school, Smallwood's ceiling is enormously high and seeing as he's putting in the necessary work, he's set to breakout on the national scene soon.
5. Matt Haack allowed it all to happen
It's been another roller coaster season for punter Matt Haack, who seems to either pack his Superman lunch in the morning or his Clark Kent sack before games. He crushed it Saturday, bombing 11 punts for 507 yards and the consistent great field position that Haack's punts were able to earn ASU kept the Sun Devil defense in the game when the offense struggled to get anything going.
ASU relied on Haack Saturday more than they've had to this entire season, and he came through with his best game yet. He gets a lot of flack when he struggles and he's had too many of those instances to count, but in a game that was incomplete, yet just enough in nearly every phase for ASU, Haack brought in every time he was called upon.