The old football adage about playing like you practice isn't always true but it certainly was Saturday. Fortunately for Arizona State, its opponent didn't play well enough to capitalize on its less-than-impressive showing.
Three days after ASU coach Dennis Erickson chastised his team following its Wednesday practice for its poor effort, the grizzled veteran coach said he was unsurprised by his team's sluggish start in a 35-20 win over Oregon State at Sun Devil Stadium.
The win improved the Sun Devils to 4-1 on the season and 2-0 in Pac-12 play while dropping the Beavers to 0-4 overall, and put ASU seemingly in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South, with the division's four other teams eligible for post season play -- Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Utah -- all losing on the day.
Don't expect much celebrating though.
"I've been around this game a lot of years," Erickson said. "Sometimes it just happens."
It included four turnovers by junior quarterback Brock Osweiler, who threw three interceptions and lost a fumble as the Sun Devils stumbled out of the gate to a 13-0 deficit early in the second quarter before getting up and dusting themselves off.
Osweiler finished 24 of 37 for 258 yards with two scores, overcoming a rough first quarter that saw him turn the ball over three times.
"We just couldn't get rolling," Osweiler said. "I was making some bad errors obviously. Oregon State schemed us pretty well. At times it almost seemed like they knew exactly what was coming so that's a credit to them. But I was making errors I can't make but learn from it, thankfully we got the win tonight. It's always easier to learn when you get the win. It shows a lot of character what this team fought through tonight."
Were it not for a stellar defensive effort in the red zone, which limited the Beavers to field goals inside the red zone on their first two trips, the Sun Devils' early deficit could have been much more daunting.
"We haven't been good in the red zone and we weren't again tonight," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "We kicked field goals instead of touchdowns and then we missed a field goal. That was a big difference in the game. We had our shots, I thought, but rarely did (Beavers quarterback) Sean (Mannion) have much time to have a second look, which was probably the hardest part of our offense tonight, therefore, especially in the red zone, that hurts you a little bit."
After taking a swift jab to its jaw, ASU got up and threw some strong counterpunches in the second quarter with two quick-strike possessions resulting in touchdowns -- a 17-yard touchdown pass to junior A.J. Pickens to cap a six play drive and a 24-yard reception by senior Gerell Robinson on a three play series -- followed by a 78-yard punt return touchdown by junior Jamal Miles.
Miles' touchdown gave the Sun Devils a 21-13 edge and cemented the momentum shift that took place during the period.
"That was the turning point," Erickson said. "That was a huge play for us and obviously made a difference in the game."
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, with ASU's coming in memorable fashion on a 37-yard run by junior Cameron Marshall that he called his favorite run of his career. The play saw Marshall bounce off of or otherwise ward off no fewer than five defenders on his way to paydirt.
"I kept moving my feet and guys kept bouncing off me so I was like, 'Oh, I've got to get to the end zone,'" Marshall said.
Marshall added his second touchdown run of the game on the second play of the fourth quarter to complete the game's scoring.
Entering as an 18-point favorite, the Sun Devils will likely want to put the game in their rear view mirror as quickly as possible, especially their offensive struggles in the first half and 1 of 10 performance on third downs on the night. Redshirt freshman kicker Alex Garoutte also missed on a 35-yard attempt and is now 3 of 6 on the season.
There were a number of bright spots, however, most notably four interceptions of Mannion, who threw the ball an unbelievably 37 times in the first half and 66 times in the game, completing 40 of the throws for 341 yards and one touchdown.
Sophomore Alden Darby had two of the interceptions in an increased role, and the Sun Devils essentially kept the Beavers from even attempting to run the football. Oregon State had just 14 carries for 47 yards.
Above all else though, it was a win and a win in a game where the Sun Devils didn't play particularly well but persevered. A victory over Utah Saturday would make ASU the overwhelming favorites to win the South; a position it no doubt is happy to be in regardless of how it arrived at that point.