Here’s everything we learned from the Sun Devils’ win over the Wildcats:
1. Demario Richard wanted to cement his legacy in Tempe with one more big game
The senior tailback was the focal point of ASU’s offensive attack Saturday afternoon, rumbling 22 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Richard, often one of the emotional leaders for the Sun Devils, was a quite the task to bring down as he ran wild through the Arizona defense en route to his fourth straight game with over 100 yards. He also eclipsed 3,000 career yards during his two-yard score in the third quarter, heading into ASU’s bowl game as the fifth-ranked back all-time for the Sun Devils.
Richard added a 63-yard rush after Arizona State had clinched the game on an incomplete pass from UA quarterback Brandon Dawkins during the tail end of the fourth quarter. It would be his last incredible play at Sun Devil Stadium, capping a tremendous four-year career in Maroon and Gold.
2. This was a successful season for Arizona State football
Yes, there were blunders against San Diego State and UCLA. Yes, the Sun Devils fell against teams considered to be in the top-tier of the conference in USC and Stanford. But, the Sun Devils were projected to finish second to last in the South division and they managed second.
They managed a bowl berth and a victory in the biggest game of the season as Graham improved to 4-2 against Arizona during his tenure in Tempe. The Sun Devils were also able to improve against the run and the pass defensively.
Redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins made strides as a decision maker, propelling sophomore wideout N’Keal Harry to another great season with Arizona State.
The Sun Devils certainly had many shortcomings as a football team during the 2017-18 campaign, but overall the season must be considered a success, especially taking into account the last couple years.
3. Though he was unable to finish the game, Khalil Tate is beatable
Both Oregon and now Arizona State have proven to do the seemingly impossible in back to back weeks, hold back Khalil Tate and thus the Wildcats’ offense.
Tate did exit near the beginning of the third quarter, but had only managed 28 yards on eight attempts on the ground against the Sun Devils’ defense. He did prove effective through the air, completing 11 of 13 passes, but was only on pace for around 260 or so yards. It was the second straight week that Tate had been held in check after a 32 yard performance in Eugene last week.
The circumstances surrounding Tate being kept out were certainly murky, as it looked as if the sophomore was clearly fine to play when he was standing on the sideline talking to teammates. Pac-12 Network noted that it was a “coaching decision” to keep Tate out.
4. Third down conversions were quietly a key component of the Sun Devils’ victory
Coming into its final game of the regular season, Arizona State had been successful on just over 41 percent of third downs, but on Saturday afternoon they converted 11 of 15 for a 73 percent clip.
These conversions allowed ASU to score quickly and move down the field efficiently against a bottom-tier Arizona defense. The Sun Devils kept the Wildcats guessing on the critical down, running the ball six times and passing it five, with Demario Richard converting three of them.
Arizona on the other hand, struggled during third down, converting just seven of its 16 opportunities. Somehow, U of A still led in time of possession, but it was mostly because the Sun Devils would convert and score quickly and Arizona was forced to play from behind most of the second half.