Senior Day Rout for ASU

After the letdown in Corvallis last weekend against Oregon State, the Sun Devils took care of business this week in a must-win situation in front of 51,428 at home against Washington State, cruising to a 52-31 victory.

It took about a quarter and a half for No. 13 Arizona State to wake up, but once it did, the team turned it on, battling back from a 14-point deficit to win 52-31 over Washington State.

The Sun Devils’ (9-2, 6-2) hopes to win the Pac-12 South are still very much alive after the victory, needing a loss by UCLA and a win over the University of Arizona next week in Tucson.

With just under five minutes left in the first half, the Cougars (3-8, 2-6) took a 21-7 lead over a reeling ASU. Yet, from that moment the Devils went on to outscore Washington State 45-10 the rest of the way to cruise to victory.

“Adversity hit early on, and our team responded really well,” quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “In the second quarter, we came together as a unit offensively and defensively, and we just put on a great show tonight."

Kelly and the offense benefitted greatly from the defense’s effort, scoring 35 points off of turnovers. Similar to recent wins, the defense proved to be the catalyst that got the team going, forcing Washington State freshman quarterback Luke Falk into five turnovers – four interceptions and one fumble recovery.

“We basically have an attacking style defense,” safety Damarious Randall said. “With our great crowd that we have here and with just a lot of noise, the other team really can’t communicate a lot whenever we’re doing a lot of skimming and scheming. So that’s kind of hard for the offense.”

Head coach Todd Graham said that when the team went down 21-7, the coaching staff scrapped their whole defensive game plan for Washington State and went back to their bread and butter; things started to click into place.

“Our defensive line starting creating a lot of pressure and once we created a couple turnovers, their offense started slowing down a little bit,” Randall said. “Their quarterback started second guessing himself and that’s when we started attacking more and more.”

Four turnovers, including one on downs, set the offense up inside Washington State’s territory, all leading to touchdowns.

Defensive end Marcus Hardison continued his steady improvement on the year, recording two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble on Falk. His interception came at a crucial point in the game after ASU pulled within seven. On the first play of the ensuing WSU possession, Hardison stood tall on a slant route and snatched the ball out of the air, returning it to the 13-yard line.

"That guy is on beast mode,” Graham said of Hardison. “He has really matured. We have challenged him and demanded more out of him and it just clicked about four weeks ago. He is playing with unbelievable confidence and is always talking and leading our defense -- we need someone to talk and lead like he has. He is the most talented defensive linemen, but what was missing was that fire in his eyes.”

Hardison was a key cog in a defensive line that forced six sacks on the day, eight total tackles for loss, and seemingly pressuring the quarterback from the second quarter on, to induce the turnovers.

“It helped us out tremendously,” Kelly said of the defense. “Field position was what this whole game was about. I can always count on them to give us great field position; whether it’s a turnover, or turnover on downs, our defense is an attacking defense and I love to see what they do.”

Just before the game started, the offensive coaching staff found out from the medical team that Jaelen Strong would not be able to play after suffering a concussion last week in Corvallis.

Without Strong, Kelly and the offense started slow, gaining just one first down in the first quarter. The boo birds rained down as the offensive line allowed four sacks on Kelly, resulting in his porous stat line of 3-for-7 passing for 44 yards – 42 of which came on one play to D.J. Foster.

But Kelly and the entire offensive unit responded, scoring 21 to close out the half.

In Strong’s absence, sophomore wide out Cameron Smith stepped up. Kelly’s favorite target on the day, Smith finished with 131 yards on six receptions and two touchdowns.

“Cam Smith had one of his best practices he’s had all season, he came prepared and got after it today,” Kelly said. “He has been waiting for his time and he got that opportunity and took advantage of it.”

Kelly made key throws down the stretch, and showed flashes of the 2013 version, finishing 15-for25 for 232 yards and four touchdowns, a fitting end to his career at Sun Devil Stadium on senior day.

“That young man has been a leader, he is the one that has truly led this team,” Todd Graham said. “Without his leadership, we will not be where we are at today. Because of his influence and humility he is the single most important player in our program. In 27 years of coaching he is the most special person I have ever been around and I am proud that I had the chance to coach him.”

Added Kelly: “Coming off that field is a thing I will remember for the rest of my life. Seeing the clock hit zero, just looking at the fans, my teammates, my coaches and seeing their faces is going to be one of those memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Up next for ASU is the coveted Territorial Cup matchup against Arizona, the day after Thanksgiving. With possibly a spot in the Pac-12 title game on the line, the Devils can’t afford another slow start, especially in enemy territory.

“We are going to treat it just like every other week and we’re going to attack it, we’re looking at it like it’s a Pac-12 Championship game,” Kelly said. “It’s down in Tucson on a Friday afternoon, so we have to start preparing tonight and get to work.”

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