"We didn't play our best game," Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said. "But listening to these guys talk, there's just a different synergy about them. I told them, ‘Hey, you've worked your whole life, some of you guys have been here five years for the opportunity, and you've got three practices and sixty minutes.' One more win and we've won the Pac-12 South championship and we are going to the Pac-12 championship game."
The Sun Devils started hot out of the gates and scored on the first drive of the game, the sixth time they've done so this season. Marion Grice was able to reach the end zone for the first time in three games. Grice finished the night with two rushing touchdowns, extending his total to 20 combined touchdowns just this season.
"That's a major accomplishment," Graham said of Grice's 20 touchdowns. "It speaks volumes about his work ethic and how hard he's worked and the talent he has."
On a night where quarterback Taylor Kelly wasn't all that sharp (22-37 for 183 yards and 2 INTs), Grice needed to do what he did, and the defense needed to have another dominant performance as well.
There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the week about the high flying Oregon State offense and how different they play compared to the teams that the Devils have played so far.
The Beavers entered the game with the second best pass offense in the nation. Quarterback Sean Mannion had 31 touchdown passes to only six interceptions coming into the game in Tempe. And after four quarters of playing against an ASU defense that has been lights out for the past five weeks, that interception tally moved to ten.
"We just rushed four for most of the night and put pressure on the quarterback," Graham said. "If you put pressure on the quarterback he's going to throw you the ball. Our plan was to cover with seven and rush with four. We felt like we could pressure with four and we were able to do that. Our guys on the back end are pretty good; I don't think they get enough credit.
"We probably pressured less tonight than we have in the entire year. Just kind of felt like we had really good matchups, so we just matched up and covered them. Coach Riley is a very good coach, it was a miserable week for me and he had some new stuff tonight so they had some tight ends running free at times. We bracketed number seven; I was not going to let him beat me. If you're going to beat me with somebody else then fine."
The number seven that Graham was referring to was the nation's leading receiver, Brandin Cooks, who came into the night averaging 149.3 ypg. On Saturday, he was held under 100 yards for just the fourth time this season.
Robert Nelson was tasked with covering Oregon State's star receiver, Brandin Cooks, on the wide side of the field most of the night and held his own. Nelson continued his impressive string of games here later on in the season, collecting two of the Devils' four interceptions on Mannion, including one for a score to seal the deal in the fourth quarter.
"I think that was probably Robert's best game," Graham said. "He's been clutch for us. When he sees the ball come out of the quarterback's hand, he is really gifted. He has been invaluable. He basically covered bump and run man on Brandin Cooks on every single play and did a phenomenal job. Very proud of him. He made a big time play last week and he made a big play tonight. That's what great players do."
Towards the end of the game, there was an altercation on the sidelines between Carl Bradford and Graham, which resulted in Bradford being taken out and not returning for the remainder of the final quarter. More information on this will most likely come out later on in the week, and after the game, Graham didn't want to talk about that to shadow the win.
"I don't want to dignify that. Obviously guys make mistakes, so that's why he didn't play for the rest of the game. We will deal with that in-house. People make mistakes, they get passionate at times, but you can see there is accountability. We have got to move forward. He didn't go back in because we took him out."
Negativity aside, you could tell in the press conference that Graham was proud of the win, but he was chomping at the bit to start preparing for UCLA.
"It's a big game. I just tell it like it is, man. Everything we worked for is in those sixty minutes. It ain't just any game; I know I'm excited for it. I'm ready to get working on it."
The Sun Devils are ultimately right where they want to be at this point in the season, 8-2 and a chance to finish at the top of the Pac-12 South with a win on the road at UCLA (8-2, 5-2).
"We have talked about it every week with handling success and everybody patting you on the back, you can't let that be a distraction. Ultimately we have not done anything up to this point. We have had very definitive goals from the day I walked in the door here, so we cannot spend one minute celebrating anything."