Arizona State definitely came out flat early on in the game. After the first quarter, the Sun Devils’ offense had run 18 plays for 69 yards, and that turned into an equally unimpressive 37 plays for 133 yards at the half. Meanwhile the ASU defense surrendered 205 yards on 24 plays after the first quarter and 341 yards on 49 plays by halftime.
There were a lot of rumblings on the Internet and in the press box during the first half about the team having quit or at the very least not being ready enough to play. While the play of the defense unexpectedly improved after key starter, senior Jordan Simone and junior Laiu Moeakiola went out of the game, if anything one thing changed ASU’s fortunes Saturday, it was the performance of senior linebacker Antonio Longino
Longino arguably played his best game of his career after being listed as doubtful with multiple injuries and according to head coach Todd Graham, only being able to take four reps in practice during the week. Despite those ailments, he finished the game with seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of game changing sacks after not starting.
The ability to play at high level despite injuries is something that helps build resiliency within a program and should also pay dividends for Longino next spring during the NFL Draft. NFL teams put a premium on college players who play through injuries and it is safe to say that Longino’s game versus Washington is something the ASU coaches and the linebacker will use as a selling points in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Sophomore Christian Sam was also very good in the game, he had 12 tackles and an interception. He continues to improve and should be one of the top linebacker in the conference over the next two seasons. His ceiling is that of an NFL player.
The Sun Devils were able to finish a team off in the fourth quarter after losing three consecutive games despite holding a fourth quarter lead. This second half performance give Graham something to build upon as his team prepares to host rival Arizona next week and then heads off to California to take on the Golden Bears in the final week. ASU will need a split to earn a bowl game, but winning out and a bowl win would deliver an 8-5 record, which doesn’t seem too bad after the last month.
Through roughly the first 25 minutes of the game, ASU did nothing well. We listed the offensive and defensive numbers already. Washington took over the ball with 6:18 left in the first half, a tackle by Longino, a tackle by James Johnson and an incompletion earned ASU its first three and out of the game and some much needed momentum. The Sun Devils went down the field and got a field goal to make it 17-3. ASU also forced another three-and-out on Washington’s next possession and the momentum of the game seemed to change.
Coming out of the half, ASU’s defense forced a three and out on Washington’s first possession. On Washington's next two possessions it drove into Sun Devil territory but was stopped on fourth down and one on the 35 yard line and on the next possession, Longino sacked Browning on third down to make what could have been a 36 yard field goal try a 45 yard attempt, which was missed by junior Cameron Van Winkle
The Washington offense never really recovered from those two failed drives. At the half, its offense had nine explosive plays and two negatives. In the second half, it had four explosive plays and nine negative plays, including four turnovers in the fourth quarter. freshman quarterback Jake Browning had a disastrous fourth quarter, completing just nine of 25 attempts including three interceptions. The takeaways Graham had been looking for showed up when he needed them Saturday.
Graham and the coaches deserve a lot of credit for rallying an undermanned defensive unit. They did know, but it was kept from the public, that freshman field safety Kareem Orr was out for the game after being injured late in the practice week. Then losing two of their stalwarts on the same play (Simone and Moeakiola) and getting improved play from the defensive unit with seldom used sophomores Chad Adams, Marcus Ball and Johnson in the game, is a great job of in-game coaching.
ASU’s offense just seemed to execute better as the game went on. The offensive line seemed to play better after freshman Sam Jones came in for an injured Billy McGehee. McGehee did return in jumbo situations later on. We saw Jones earlier in the year surpass McGehee because of a mix of injury and performance and it might have happened again this week.
Senior quarterback Mike Bercovici was just 10 for 20 with 97 yards at the half. As bad as Browning was as the game went on, Bercovici was as good. In the second half, Bercovici was 12 for 14 for 156 yards. We didn’t see a schematic or personnel change that spurred the improvement. ASU stuck with the run and if nothing else that had a cumulative effect as the game wore on.
ASU’s offense at the half had just two explosive plays, four negative plays and zero red zone trips. In the second half it had five explosive, three negative and was two for two in the red zone. Not the diametric difference that Washington had in the game but a steady improvement.
Third down was the main limiting issue in the game for the Sun Devils' offense. They were one out of nine in the first half on third down. At one point they were one for eleven but converted three of thier last six tries on third down.
Bercovici and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell did a good job of distributing the ball. Eight receivers caught 22 passes and no receiver caught more than five passes. Senior Devin Lucien had a big catch and run on his 32 yard score. Yards after the catch has been an issue for ASU this season. Junoir tight end Kody Kohl did a good job in this game at gaining yards after the catch with four catches for 55 yards.
Sophomore running back Demario Richard did not have one of his biggest games but he rarely had a lot of holes to run through and did a great job of consistently gaining as much as possible on his 14 carries. He finished with only 45 yards rushing but had zero negative plays. He was limited because of what appeared to be a minor knee issue later on.
It was the performance of fellow sophomore Kalen Ballage, who rushed 11 times for 92 yards including a 48 yard touchdown run after an interception by senior cornerback Kweishi Brown that put ASU up 27-17.
Ballage now has over 300 yards total rushing over the last three games and you have to wonder how this season might have unfolded if he had not come down with mononucleosis in the days before the Texas A&M game, causing him to miss the first three games of the year. He is as important to this offense as Richard and senior D.J. Foster because of his ability to make big plays and be a power runner late in games.
Shawn Slocum’s special teams had a solid day as well. Zane Gonzalez converted his two field goal attempts and had touchbacks on six of his kickoffs. ASU only let up 39 yards on five punt returns. Junior Matt Haack had a huge day with 11 punts with five of them traveling over 50 yards and five more landing inside the 20, he had a 46.1 average on the day. His performance might have been benefited from some extra motivation after ASU received a commitment from a junior college punter.