Ten Takeaways: Washington

What all contributed to Arizona State's remarkable 27-0 run and second-half shutout of Washington Saturday in Tempe? We dive in.

1.  On Arizona State's final drive of the first half alone, senior quarterback Mike Bercovici had four incompletions. In the rest of the game he had just two incompletions, connecting on 12 of 14 passing attempts for 156 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Eleven of Bercovici's second-half completions came after he was violently sacked by Corey Littleton due to a missed block by ASU senior right tackle William McGehee. The Sun Devils were trailing 17-3 when Bercovici got sacked. Their next drive was five plays, 60 yards for a touchdown in just 1:29 with ASU never facing a third down situation. Bercovici has had an average season but this was some of his best work against a really impressive defense. 

2. The Huskies entered the game with the best scoring defense in the Pac-12 at a stingy 18.8 points per game and their secondary is prolific at generating interceptions and passes defended. Four defensive backs on the team have two or more interceptions this season and five have five or more passes defended. In this game, Washington had no interceptions and no passes defended by any member of its secondary, and just one by a linebacker. That's a testament to how productive Bercovici was both in terms of decision making and accuracy execution, especially in the second half. It's also a clear sign of a good performance by ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell that there were almost no jeopardy throws needed despite the nature of the game. ASU'd defense, conversely, had three interceptions and six passes defended. 

3. After punting on its first possession of the second half, ASU reeled off 24 straight points in a span of five drives. There was a 34 play stretch of the second half in which ASU didn't face a third down situation that was longer than five yards. That's how you put points on the board. ASU went 3 of 8 on third downs in the second half, but on its last two missed opportunities it was just trying to run clock. In the first half, ASU was just one of nine on third downs and managed just three points. ASU showed a commitment to running the football in the first half and being comfortable with playing within itself offensively, with eight carries in the first quarter alone despite only 18 plays from scrimmage, but it wasn't converting on third downs even when it got into manageable situations. In this game, there weren't the big low percentage shots down the field that we've seen in the past. 

4. Washington entered the game averaging the fewest number of plays per game in the Pac-12 with 66 but had 49 in the first half alone against ASU as it raced out to a 17-0 lead due in large part to coverage breakdowns in the secondary and an inability to impact the quarterback. ASU did pressure freshman Jake Browning a fair amount and hit him a few times right after he delivered the ball, but Browning was getting in out quickly and the Sun Devils had no sacks and just two tackles for loss in the first half. In the second half, the Huskies still had more plays than normal with 37, but couldn't turn drives into points. Four times in the second half Washington got the ball into ASU territory and not once did it score. 

5. ASU coach Todd Graham called the first quarter "chaotic" in his post-game press conference and I'm sure he was even more stressed out on the sidelines than the ASU fans watching this game in the stands or at home. Freshman field safety Kareem Orr practiced through late in the week Graham said -- indeed, we saw him work with the first-team Tuesday and Wednesday -- but wasn't able to play due to an injury (Graham said he though Orr would be okay for Arizona). That led secondary coach Chris Ball and Graham to decide to put sophomore Chad Adams in the starting lineup at field safety, but Adams struggled out of the gate. He had a bad coverage bust and then as deep safety help didn't get to the receiver in his area of responsibility on the first touchdown throw. ASU then decided to put sophomore James Johnson on the field in place of Adams, a position Johnson hasn't practiced at all this season. Then, senior Bandit Jordan Simone and junior Spur Laiu Moeakiola went down and out on the same play. At that point you had to wonder if it was just too much for ASU to overcome. ASU's tended to not play well defensively with Moeakiola off the field the last couple years, and people watching may not have known it but redshirt freshman safety Das Tautalatasi was also banged up to some degree, as he was getting looked at and seemingly stretched out on the trainer's table. You may recall, that's who went on the field for Moeakiola a week earlier against Washington State. Instead, sophomore Marcus Ball went on the field for his first meaningful reps since, ever? And Adams went back onto the field in place of Simone. Somehow, with all of that being the case, ASU shut out Washington in the second half. 

6. When all the reserves went into the game in a way it may have simplified things for Todd Graham from a play calling standpoint. Graham's always been most comfortable attacking relentlessly anyway, and the way that a defense can reduce coverage breakdowns is to simplify things by blitzing more and playing a lot of straight man coverage behind it with a safety sometimes over the top where there's vulnerability based on tendencies. If ASU was going to have to face a Pac-12 team with multiple defensive starters injured on this schedule, Washington may have been the best one to do it. Even though the Huskies are well coached, it's a freshman quarterback who missed a lot of throws -- Washington should have been up four touchdowns instead of two probably in the first half -- and the Huskies aren't that explosive. Johnson, Adams and Ball didn't play great but they played quite well all things considered. I think Ball's performance in particular was remarkable given that he has been so buried on the depth chart and wasn't practicing on the two-deep. But his interception and tackle for loss showed his potential. 

7. You're almost never going to see one team score 17 straight points in the first half and then have its opponent score 27 straight points in a college football game. It was an odd game in a season that's been very unpredictable in terms of ASU's performance. In that regard, this was a microcosm given the disparity between the two halves. Certainly ASU isn't a great team but it has played very well at times and often we've seen it have wild swings of effectiveness within a game, such as Utah and Washington State. ASU could easily be 7-3 right now if it had some more luck and finished strong in a couple close games. 

8. The performance by senior Devil backer Antonio Longino was remarkable. On Tuesday he wasn't really able to even jog at half speed. Wednesday he looked a bit better but still I completely believed Todd Graham when he said Longino was doubtful. On Thursday, I was the only member of the media who attended ASU's observation portion of practice -- which we don't tend to cover and haven't in the last two months because we're only allowed to watch five minutes of warm up -- and was surprised to see Longino in a white jersey going through the warm ups normally. At the time I thought he was going to try to play and posted as much. But I did not think he would be able to be as effective as he was. Seven tackles, four for loss, two sacks. Given that I saw him in practices those three days and how he looked, I'm going to remember his performance for a long time. 

9. It understandably got lost in the shuffle but the play of sophomore Christian Sam deserves more attention in this game. It wasn't just the interception he had but Sam led the team with 12 tackles and shouldered more of a load I felt against the run because junior Salamo Fiso wasn't playing at full strength and was gutting the game out. Coming into this season we knew Sam had a very big upside because he's quite athletic for his size, but his pad level and overall assignment consistency weren't demonstrated. He's had one of the best seasons of any ASU players relative to expectations and is one of its best NFL prospects. 

10. A lot of fans have posted about wanting to see sophomore Manny Wilkins play more in light of ASU's frustrating season. I see two flaws with this way of thinking. First, and most importantly, the Sun Devils need to do do everything in their power to get to bowl eligibility because those additional practices are like getting a second spring schedule to develop their young players. It is extremely important, and while Wilkins may do fine if given the opportunity, ASU should not abandon its starter just to get a player reps for the future. Which brings me to the second point, which is that Wilkins is only one of four quarterbacks who will be competing for the starting job next season, so we don't even know if he'll be the quarterback. At least two others have reasonable odds of emerging victorious. 

Bonus Take: Turnovers are the most predictive stat in football and ASU didn't turn the ball over and generated four turnovers. As much as anything else, that's the reason it won. Also, it had no special teams gaffe and junior Matt Haack averaged more than 46 yards per punt with five inside the 20 on his 11 attempts. That was also important. If you don't turn the ball over and you don't have major special teams breakdowns, you're going to be in the vast majority of games and win a majority. 

Bonus Take No. 2: Sophomore running back Kalen Ballage was invigorating on the ASU sidelines when the overall mood was relatively flat and the offense couldn't get in gear. Then Ballage had a really good second half the included his long touchdown run. But on other plays, even when there weren't big holes, he was running extremely hard. 

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