Not many gave the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-3, 2-1 Pac-12) a chance Saturday night. Coming off a loss to Stanford in which Bryce Love had his way and a top five team coming to town, it was easy to count them out.
But not inside the locker room.
“A lot of people are going to call this an upset,” defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. “I promise you, it’s not an upset to these guys.”
The Sun Devils took down the No. 5 Washington Huskies 13-7 at Sun Devil Stadium, making them the fourth team this week to knock off a top 10 team.
While others may have been bigger underdogs, the manner of this win was the most startling of the trio. The Sun Devils had been burned by the likes of Love, SDSU’s Rashaad Penny and Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek, but they buckled down against the vaunted Washington offense.
From the start, the ASU defense wanted to prove a point, deciding to go on defense to begin the game.
“That was Todd’s call,” Bennett said. “He turned to me and said ‘if we ever want to be what we think we can be, you’ve got to play championship defense. Let’s kick off and take the ball in the second half.’”
After kicking off, the Sun Devils forced the Huskies three-and-out and responded with their only touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run by senior Kalen Ballage.
That was all the ASU defense needed.
Junior quarterback Jake Browning completed 17 of 30 passes for just 139 yards, facing a barrage of pressure from the Sun Devil front. What Browning didn’t see, though, were the exotic blitz packages ASU’s opponents are used to.
“I thought they were going to do something different,” Browning said. “Had a whole week to prepare and do some different stuff. I don’t think they really pressured a ton. I could be wrong but I don’t think they did.”
That was exactly the gameplan for coach Phil Bennett and company, according to coach Todd Graham, and they did it well.
“We showed blitz and then we would rush three and then we sometimes would rush a different three,” Graham said. “It was masterful. Coach Bennett and the staff did a great job and made great adjustments.”
Despite rushing three and four consistently, the Sun Devils sacked Browning five times and kept him on his toes, forcing the experienced quarterback to improvise outside the pocket for little to no success for a majority of the night.
“I told our guys, ‘if we’re going to win, we have to be the best defense on the field,’” Bennett said. “99.9 percent of the time you do that, you’re going to win.”
“These kids are unbelievable,” Bennett said. “They’re tough, they’re resilient, they bought in to what we’re doing. Todd has done an unbelievable job of guiding them.”
Bennett credited the secondary, specifically junior Kobe Williams and redshirt junior Das Tautalatasi, with keeping Browning off his game and his receivers from busting big gains.
“I haven’t looked at the tape, but it looked like Kobe played lights out,” Bennett said. “We got him some help, we did some different things... I thought all of them did a really good job.”
“They did a nice job on defense mixing it up, like we knew they would,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “Bringing pressure, it’s going to be one of those games where we put the tape on and we’re going to be kicking ourselves, we already know it. That’s what is so painful. We all know we have to score more points.”
With the win, ASU moves to 17-0 when holding teams under 20 points in the Todd Graham era. But there’s no time to dwell on this one, not in the Pac-12.
“I said to them ‘I want you to enjoy it, but you better think about Utah now,’” Bennett said. “That’s what my first step is. I want to enjoy it for 30 minutes, then we’ve got to take the next step.”