While it is still tough to process and maybe unbelievable, the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-3, 2-1 Pac-12) beat the then-No. 5 Washington Huskies (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) 13-7 on Saturday night, as Mill Avenue’s fiesta crept into Sun Devil Stadium, partying onto the field.
Here are our four fearless takeaways:
It’s official: the Sun Devils are contenders, not pretenders
Believe it or not, but Arizona State is on the heels of the No. 13 USC Trojans (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) and tied for second place with the Arizona Wildcats (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) in the Pac-12. South. So ASU has a chance to win it? Yes, but not easily. Their resume should help them though. With a the eighth toughest schedule in the nation, according to teamranking.com, Arizona State hadn’t lost to a single unranked team, as of Saturday’s AP college football rankings (No. 19 SDSU, No. 23 Stanford, No. 24 Texas Tech). While the road will only get tougher, playing at the Utah Utes (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) and at home against USC, in consecutive weeks, the Sun Devils have shown they can beat a top-notch opponent, and can surely top any conference opponent after beating the Huskies.
Gutsy play calling has severely cooled down Graham’s seat
It worked against then-No. 24 Oregon (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) and of course No. 5 Washington. It was nothing fancy, no trick plays, but simply gutsy play calling that allowed for Arizona State to complete the upset. In the Sun Devils’ 37-35 win over Oregon, Graham called an onside kick in the first quarter that later resulted in a 17-7 ASU lead. Against Washington, the Sun Devils were 3-for-3 on fourth downs due to Graham’s fearlessness. In Arizona State’s first drive on a 4th-and-1 from the Washington 5-yard line, rather than kicking a field goal, ASU piled on seven points. Kalen Ballage appeared to be behind Manny Wilkins as if he’d run, but Wilkins darted a screen to Harry instead, which set up Ballage’s touchdown. It was the only seven-point score of the night for ASU, and proved crucial, as the Sun Devils won by just six. Fast forward to the end of the game, with ASU up 13-7 with two minutes left and at 4th-and-3 from the Washington 37-yard line. Wilkins heaved a 30-yard pass to Ceejhay French-Love who hadn’t made a catch all game until that moment sealing the victory.
Defense (AND SPECIAL TEAMS) wins championships
When asked what was surprising of his team prior to Arizona State’s win over Washington, Graham mentioned the tough task of repairing his special teams unit. With Zane Gonzalez, Matt Haack and Tim White all gone to the NFL, newcomers stepped up on Saturday night. Curtis Hodges managed a blocked punt at the start of the second quarter. Brandon Ruiz sank two of three field goals and tied his career high of 52 yards. Michael Sleep-Dalton eclipsed a 40-yard punting average (40. 5), pinning Washington inside the 20-yard line once, and Ryan Newsome, who averages just 3.8 yards per punt this season, returned one 16 yards to put ASU in prime field position in a crucial fourth quarter situation. But the most enticing special teams statistic was halting the nation’s best punt returner in Dante Pettis. Pettis averaged just 2.3 yards per return. Prior to Saturday, Pettis had led the nation with an average of 31.8 yards.
This might have been the greatest regular season win in Arizona State history
While the Sun Devils have had plenty of postseason moments that trump Saturday night’s win, it was a regular season win for the books. The last time Arizona State beat a top-5 team was over 20 years ago, in 1996 against No. 1 Nebraska. It was the first time Arizona State held a team to single digit points since beating Sacramento State 50-0 in 2013, and a power five team since 2012, beating Washington State, 46-7. The Sun Devils held last season’s Pac-12 offensive player of the year, Jake Browning, to just 115 total yards, and sacked Browning five times. Prior to Saturday night, he’d only been sacked five times all season. But where does this stack up with beating No. 1 Nebraska 19-0? How about going undefeated in 1970? Or beating No. 7 UCLA on the road in 2015? Or every time they’ve beaten Arizona?
Maybe it will be easier to equate how tremendous the win was once Sun Devil fans see just how good Washington is. While the loss was detrimental to UW, the Huskies can still find a spot into the College Football Playoff. Nebraska ended its 1996 season No. 6 in the nation with a 11-2, 8-0 conference record, winning the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech.