Sun Devil Defense Delivers in Win

In what figured to be a statement game for both teams, it was the Arizona State defense that delivered the loudest message on Saturday as the Sun Devils throttled #20 Washington 53-24 behind the inspired play of its defensive line.

After surviving arguably the most difficult first six games of the season in all of college football, Arizona State began the second half of its schedule on Saturday against yet another ranked opponent in a game with serious conference implications. On its first offensive drive of the afternoon, Washington wasted very little time putting its full offensive arsenal on display, marching 60 yards on 11 plays to jump ahead 7-0 on a Bishop Sankey one yard scoring drive.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, that's about as good as it got for the afternoon. .

On its final eight possessions of the first half, Washington managed to gain just six total yards of offense as the Sun Devil defense began to enforce its will.

"I think a lot of people don't realize the schedule we've played," said Head Coach Todd Graham afterwards. "We played two offensive lines that are as good as I've ever gone against this year. We have a very, very good football team. The rush yards that we've given up and the things we've done are all correctable."

Entering Saturday's match-up, opponents had been averaging 168.8 rushing yards per game against the Sun Devils, which figured to have its hands full trying to contain running back Bishop Sankey, the nation's leading rusher. Instead, Arizona State rose to the challenge, holding the Huskies to negative five yards on the ground while keeping Bishop to a season-low 22 yards on 13 carries.

"We dominated a really good football team," commented Graham. "I thought when we got back in conference play that we'd see some things that we saw from our guys last year. You've seen what we can do. We can get to the quarterback. Great job defensively. Number one rusher in the country and they had minus five yards. That's phenomenal. The kids deserve the credit. We put together a solid plan and they executed it."

Arizona State limited Washington to just 212 yards of total offense while harassing senior quarterback Keith Price throughout the game. The Sun Devils recorded 12 tackles for a loss, including seven sacks, while being led by the defensive duo of Carl Bradford and Will Sutton. Combined, the two had six tackles - five for a loss - two sacks and a pair of pass break-ups, looking more like the defensive menaces Sun Devils fans have been waiting to see dominate opposing offensives all season.

"I wish you could hear those guys," remarked Graham. "Our defensive line is really smart. They come to the sideline and they tell me, 'Coach, they're tracking, they're sliding in front to Will and Carl.' So we did some things to create some one-on-one's for Gannon (Conway) and Davon (Coleman) and Jaxon (Hood) to beat one-on-one blocks. Then they started sliding it back and you saw Will and, obviously, Carl. Carl's unblockable. If he doesn't want you to block him, you won't block him. He's really, really talented."

Offensively, the Sun Devils were led by junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, who finished the game with 268 passing yards and a career-high 101 yards on the ground to go along with four total touchdowns. Arizona State finished with 585 yards of offense and recorded its third straight game of 50+ points against Pac-12 opponents.

Its 53 points on Saturday also represented the most points scored by a Sun Devil team against the Huskies, easily surpassing the previous mark of 45, set in 1996.

"I told you that we've got the best guy I've ever worked with running it," said Graham about Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell. "That may make Gus (Malzahn) and Chad (Morris) mad, but the guy we've got running it here is doing a great job. The coaches we've got coaching it are doing a great job.

"We got great young people. The character that's on our offensive line - you look at D.J. Foster, Marion Grice, Kevin Ozier and the leadership they've provided, that's a special group. And you know what? They're smart and they're disciplined."

Marion Grice led all rushers with his own career-high 161 yards and two rushing touchdowns as Arizona State picked up a total of 317 yards on the ground, the fourth most in the last 18 years for the Sun Devils. Grice also added three catches for 34 yards and a leaping touchdown grab in the first quarter to jumpstart the offensive attack.

For the season, Grice, who entered the game as the nations' leading scorer, has found the end zone 18 times (12 rushing, six receiving).

"I tell you all the time, I never stay awake at night worrying about the offense," added Graham. "We don't turn the football over. We don't have negative plays. We're going to score, no doubt in my mind about that. We've got really good players and really smart players and really disciplined players and when that offensive line gets rolling like that, it's really going to get nice."

Arizona State improved to 5-0 at Sun Devil Stadium this season and recorded its eight consecutive win against Washington overall by handing the Huskies their third straight defeat, the fifth consecutive year they've suffered a three game losing skid under Head Coach Steve Sarkisian.

The Sun Devils get a bye next week before they get set for a pair of conference road games against Washington State and Utah as they look to keep pace in the tight Pac-12 South divisional race.

"This was a big game for us," said Graham. "(Washington) was backed against the wall because obviously you go 1-3 in the conference and you're just about done. We still control our own destiny and I kind of like being in control of our own destiny. I don't know what anybody else did and it doesn't matter. You've got to beat everybody in the South. Beat everybody in the South and win the next five games and I think we have a pretty good shot to be in the championship.

"The next two games are on the road and they're huge. So we're going to let these guys heal up. You look at Washington, Notre Dame, USC, Stanford, Wisconsin - we played a gauntlet. So we need to heal up and continue to get better and that's the key. We're going to have a chance in every game we play; we've just got to take it one at a time. Next up is Washington State. These three road games we've got to go win."

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