College Football Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long rationalized Stanford’s No. 7 ranking this week by suggesting the Cardinal’s “body clocks” weren’t adjusted for an early kickoff in a loss against Northwestern.
On Saturday, it looked like Arizona State suffered from an alarm clock issue, but once the Sun Devils did wake up, there was nothing stopping them in a 27-17 come-from-behind victory over the Washington Huskies on homecoming at Sun Devil Stadium.
After spotting the Huskies a 17-0 advantage late into the first half, the bell finally went off for the Sun Devils, who rattled off 27 consecutive points en route to their fifth victory of the season.
"Sometimes when it gets like that and people are like, it's chaotic, people are not, we're trying to get a hold on things, people can start to complain, people can start to go, what are you doing and start to yell at other people and all that," head coach Todd Graham said. "There was none of that. There was none of that."
Riding a three-game losing streak entering the game, the Sun Devils held a fourth quarter lead in each of those three contests before faltering late.
Against the Huskies, it was the Sun Devils flipping the script, as ASU stormed back from a fourth quarter deficit to give the Huskies a taste of the heartbreak it became accustomed to facing in recent weeks.
After a field goal 23-yard field goal from junior Zane Gonalzez gave ASU its first lead of the contest with 8:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils proved they learned from lessons past, and stepped on the gas pedal.
Up 20-17 and needing a defensive stop, senior Devil backer Antonio Longino came up with one of the most important defensive plays of the game, driving Washington freshman quarterback Jake Browning back for an eight-yard loss on first down.
"My team needs me to pick them up on and off the field, so that's what I came out there to do," Longino said. "That's my last two or three games out there, so I'm not passing them up, I'm going to give what I got."
The sack put pressure on the Huskies, and on the next play, Browning committed a rare freshman mistake, throwing an interception directly into the hands of senior cornerback Kweishi Brown.
After a largely lackadaisical afternoon, ASU’s offense responded in harmony with its defense, as sophomore running back Kalen Ballage bolted down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown run to leave the Huskies in the desert dust and send ASU to a much-needed victory.
"I was telling the line to make a crease, make a hole so I can hit it as hard as I can," Ballage said. "We came out here in the second half and we were very physical. We talked about it at halftime, just getting our energy up and our effort and it showed when we came out."
The win took remarkable resilience for ASU, as the team suffered through the worst first half of the Todd Graham era, allowing 341 yards to the Pac-12’s 11th ranked offense, which came into the contest averaging just 354.2 yards per game.
The Huskies capitalized on the Sun Devils’ lack of energy, discipline, and focus by racking up 16 first downs in the first half, keyed by nine explosive plays of at least 10 yards.
ASU’s defensive struggles were compounded by an offense that couldn’t stay on the field in the first half, as the Sun Devils went three-and-out on three of their first five possessions.
Redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici engineered an offensive attack that gained a mere 133 yards on 37 offensive plays in the first half, resulting in seven punts and zero trips to the red zone.
"That's about as uncomfortable as I've been in a game since I've been here," Graham said. "And we're just trying to hold--keep the walls from falling in on the thing, because you get so many things that are happening, so much--losing one guy right after another and that was difficult."
Hampered by the loss of true freshman field safety Kareem Orr who was ruled out for the game with a groin injury, the Sun Devils’ secondary was tested early and often.
Browning set the tone for the first half with a 21-yard completion to senior wide receiver Jaydon Mickens on the Huskies’ first play from scrimmage, and Washington racked up plays of 17, 19, 46 and 53 yards before the first quarter came to an end.
Trailing 10-0, the Sun Devils’ defensive depth took a significant blow early in the second quarter.
On second and 11 at the ASU 42-yard line, senior wide receiver Marvin Hall carried the ball on a reverse play past redshirt junior SPUR linebacker Laiu Moeakiola, who emerged from the play clutching his right shoulder. As redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone sprinted in to clean up the play, Simone injured his right knee in the process of making the tackle.
"We lost Jordan (Simone), who is our major communicator for us," Graham said. "Laiu is a major communicator for us. And I think it's a great testimony to (backup SPUR) Marcus (Ball). And I just told him to listen, just do what Salamo says, don't say anything, just do what he says. And so we had to simplify a little bit and be a little more basic in what we were doing."
Though ASU forced a fourth down stop later in the drive, the Hall reverse left the already short-handed Sun Devils without two more of their most important defensive players.
After a three-and-out from the Sun Devils, the Huskies caught an ASU defense forced to mix and match its personnel in a severe coverage breakdown, as Browning hit junior tight end Darrell Daniels on a wide open 29-yard touchdown strike to take a 17-0 lead.
After starting their first five offensive series at or inside their own 20-yard line, a drive beginning at the Sun Devils’ own 46-yard line resulted in a six-play, 32-yard scoring drive that netted ASU a 40-yard field goal from junior Zane Gonzalez shortly before the half.
The Sun Devils finally began to show their first signs of life after halftime, as a Huskies’ three-and-out gave ASU strong field position for just the second time all game.
Starting at their own 40-yard line, the Sun Devils used a 26-yard completion from Bercovici to senior wide receiver D.J. Foster to break into Washington territory. On the next play, Bercovici hit redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien for a 20-yard gain to give the Sun Devils their first red zone possession of the afternoon.
Two plays later, Bercovici pitched to sophomore running back Kalen Ballage who scampered in for a three-yard touchdown run to pull the Sun Devils within one score.
Though momentum was beginning to shift in favor of the Sun Devils, the Huskies had a prime opportunity to regain a two-score lead on their next series.
Browning drove Washington inside the red zone, but his second down pass intended for senior tight end Joshua Perkins was tipped down in the end zone by sophomore safety James Johnson.
On third down from the 19-yard line, Browning committed another costly error, holding the ball too long before Longino walloped him for a nine-yard loss.
"From my vantage point, just throw it away," Washington head coach Chris Petersen said. "We'll live to fight another down."
On a day where ASU played without three of its normal defensive starters due to injury, it was fitting Longino, who was doubtful for Saturday's game with an injury, came up with two of its most important plays.
"He (Longino) should not have even played," Graham said. "As a matter of fact, I don't let you play if you don't practice. He took four reps. He took four reps Thursday. And in no way did he need to play, in my opinion. And he let me know that that wasn't going to be my decision."
The third down setback proved significant, as junior kicker Cameron Van Winkle missed the subsequent 45-yard field goal attempt that would have put the Huskies up by 10.
Following the miss, Longino and the Sun Devils sprinted off the field to roars from the ASU crowd, providing the awakening the team had been searching for all afternoon.
The Sun Devils fed off that energy, never letting the Huskies taste another scoring opportunity, as Brown's interception was the first of four fourth quarter turnovers ASU forced en route to the win.
ASU will return to action next Saturday when it hosts Arizona as the Sun Devils look to become bowl-eligible with a Territorial Cup victory.