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October 20, 2013
Arizona State's 53-24 win over No. 20 Washington Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium was a surprise.
Not that ASU won, but the manner in which it happened, and how one sided it was, couldn't have been anticipated.
The Sun Devil defense shockingly held nation's leading rusher, Washington junior Bishop Sankey to only 22 yards and dismantled the line of scrimmage with 12 tackles for loss.
ASU's offense has struggled to run the ball consistently all season and senior running back Marion Grice ran for a career high 161 yards. Even with arguably the most explosive weapon sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong on the sidelines for the second half with an ankle sprain, the it 53 points.
Even coach Todd Graham was a little bit amazed at the outcome.
"Man, what an impressive performance," Graham said. "Might be the most impressive performance as a team that we've had since I've been here. We've got a heck of a football team. I love watching them. It's exciting to watch We dominated a really good football team here tonight."
ASU now stands at 5-2 and 3-1 in Pac-12 play, with a half game lead over UCLA in the Pac-12 South. Graham said before the game his team needed to win all its games at home and go undefeated in the Pac-12 South to obtain its goals of playing for a conference title.
Last week the Sun Devils beat their second Pac-12 South foe, Colorado. The win over a No. 20 ranked, 4-3 Washington team at Sun Devil Stadium puts the Sun Devils right track toward their goals.
"We still control our own destiny and I kind of like being in control of our own destiny," Graham said. "I don't know what anybody else did. It doesn't matter. You got to beat everybody in the South. Beat everybody in the South and win the next five games, I think we got a pretty good chance of being in the conference championship."
ASU is now is now 2-4 against ranked opponents under Graham, which is one fewer win than Dennis Erickson had in five seasons at the school, and the same as Dirk Koetter was able to muster in six years.
Apparently a win against a ranked opponent is not a big surprise for Graham. But the individual ASU players who had career games to help beat Washington were unanticipated.
The usual playmakers were successful.
Junior quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 268 yards. Grice added two touchdowns to put his season total at 18, only four away from Wilford "Whizzer" White's all-time ASU record of 22 in a season. And junior linebacker Carl Bradford had one sack and two tackles for loss.
Those numbers can be expected.
Unexpected was the performances by ASU senior wide receiver Kevin Ozier and senior defensive end Gannon Conway.
The ASU offense put up 53 points which is the most it has ever scored on the Huskies.
If ASU scores that many points, it is almost a given sophomore Strong had his normal 100 plus yards receiving, a touchdown grab and one catch for 40-plus yards.
That was not the case Saturday.
Strong was knocked out in the second quarter with what Graham said was a rolled ankle. He tried to go in the first possession of the second half but couldn't. He ended with three catches for seven yards.
With Strong out of commission, Ozier had his break out game of the season. He finished the game with eight catches for 88 yards and was Kelly's go-to target in the second half.
"When someone goes down the next guy has to get in there and step up," Ozier said. "That's what I did and I did it to the best of my ability."
As a unit, ASU's defense handled a powerful Washington offense. It held team with the nation's leading rusher to -5 yards. It sacked the quarterback six times and held the Huskies to only 24 points.
Conway had a big role in the defense's domination.
Graham has said all season Conway has been a consistent force on the defensive line but he's one one to make a lot of flashy plays.
It was a different story against Washington.
Conway was a huge force for the ASU pressure with four total tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a couple unrecorded hurries on the Washington quarterback.
In the six games leading up to Washington, Conway only had two tackles for loss and two sack.
Conway said the work the defense put in during the week showed on the field Saturday.
"This week, it was a really good week of preparation for us," Conway said. "We came out and we really did what we were supposed to do, did our one-eleventh and then made plays happen. Everybody did. When the play came to them, they made the play happen. So I think the preparation in the week is what allowed us to have a lot of success on defense."
Graham said Conway had the potential to have a performance like this.
"He tells me he's faster than I think," Graham said. "Problem is, Gannon, he plays next to guys that are really, really fast and explosive. Gannon was all over. He was the guy pressuring the quarterback tonight."
With all the extra attention teams give senior defensive tackle Will Sutton and Bradford, the other players on the defensive line like Conway, senior defensive tackle Davon Coleman and sophomore defensive tackle Jaxon Hood will have the opportunity to capitalize.
Graham said his players noticed Washington's offensive game plan early, adjusted to it and it opened things up for Conway and others.
"Wish you could hear those guys (during the game)," Graham said. "Our d-line is really smart. They come to the sideline they tell me, 'Coach, they're tracking, they're sliding the front to Will [Sutton] and Carl [Bradford].' So if they are, we did some things to create one-on-one with those guys and Gannon and Davon and Jaxon [Hood] beat one-on-one blocks. Then they started sliding it back and then you see Will and obviously Carl."
The Sun Devils have a bye week next week then head to face Washington State and then Utah in back-to-back road games. It has been no secret ASU has played better at Sun Devil Stadium than on the road this season
After ASU's seven straight games to start the season, Graham is just happy to have a week off before he has to play the next two games away from Tempe.
"The next two games are on the road [and] they're huge," Graham said. "We're going to let these guys heal up. We got to heal up. Look at the schedule: Notre Dame, USC, Stanford, Wisconsin. We've played a gauntlet so we need to heal up. We need to continue to get better."
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