Outmatched Arizona State falls to Washington in unsurprising manner

Arizona State entered Saturday's game against Washington outmatched, and the Sun Devils did little in the course of a 44-18 loss to inspire hope about the direction of the program.

SEATTLE, Washington -- The end result surprised nobody, and that's the most alarming part of this story. 

On a gloomy afternoon at Husky Stadium, the increasingly dark Arizona State season became even more ominous. A black cloud that has followed the Sun Devils around since their Oct. 1 loss to USC has proven inescapable, suffocating. 

Even before their one-sided 44-18 loss to Washington on Saturday as a 27-point underdog, the 5-6 Sun Devils were again shaking their heads at their bad luck.

Junior safety Marcus Ball, ASU's leading tackler since moving to Bandit in the team's last win on Oct. 8 against UCLA, wasn't able to play due to a medical issue after practicing all week. In warmups, reserve defensive end Jalen Bates suffered a serious leg injury that put him in an air cast and on crutches. He'd been playing more of late. ASU couldn't even get to the kickoff of the game before becoming even more seriously damaged due to injuries.

And this is a team that's already been pretty well crippled by them this season. Already entering the game, the Sun Devils didn't have starting offensive linemen Sam Jones and Stephon McCray due to injuries, and then replacement starter Zach Robertson went down with a left ankle injury early on Saturday.

Starting senior tight end Kody Kohl didn't play either, and senior starting SAM linebacker Salamo Fiso was playing at less than full strength due to a knee injury, ineffective with just three tackles in the game. Then, senior cornerback De'Chavon Hayes was knocked out with an undisclosed injury. Starting sophomore wide receiver Jalen Harvey wasn't able to play with a right ankle injury, and his backup, wide receiver Cameron Smith, didn't go either. 

"Just today we we lost Marcus Ball right before the game and didn't have Kody Kohl, didn't have Stephon (McCray), didn't have George (Lea)," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "And those were people I was hoping we'd be able to have. And then we lost Jalen Bates in pre-game. So that was one of those deals."

But even if ASU had all of those players on the field against the Huskies, the Sun Devils still probably would have been overmatched. A Washington squad that has now won 10 games for the first time since 2000 beat ASU for the first time in 11 tries, and there was no question whatsoever as to which team was better. That was well established even before the Sun Devils made the trip. 

It was also a pretty easy guess as to how ASU would struggle on the way to its loss. 

The big plays that ASU's defense has reliably given up all season? Yep, they were again on display Saturday.

The 75-yard touchdown reception by Chico McClatcher from Washington quarterback Jake Browning in the first quarter was the Huskies' longest play from scrimmage all season. Wide receiver Dante Pettis' 46-yard touchdown reception was his longest catch of the year. 

Then there was the 45-yard touchdown run by Washington's Myles Gaskin that put the Huskies on top 37-11 in the fourth quarter and effectively put the game out of reach. 

On the touchdowns by McClatcher and Gaskin, no ASU defensive player even touched the ball carrier. That's a combined 121 yards from scrimmage without even so much as a fingertip's worth of resistance.

ASU entered the game giving up 1.5 touchdowns per game of 30 or more yards, which is worst in the country. It doubled that number in Saturday's loss. 

The anemic offense that has included an inability to run the football and shaky quarterback play? That was present as well. 

By the time the Huskies had a commanding 24-0 lead at halftime, ASU had just 48 yards of total offense on 28 plays. Junior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage had combined for just 31 rushing yards on 10 carries. 

Sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins completed five of just 10 pass attempts in the half for 32 yards. Even as the Sun Devils intercepted Browning twice early in the game, they weren't able to get any points out of their turnovers, which mirrors last week against Utah, when two early turnovers resulted in just three points. 

"As an offense, when turnovers happen we have to do a better job of putting points on the board," Wilkins said. "That all falls on me, I have to do a better job at protecting the ball." 

After Browning was intercepted by ASU junior Koron Crump early in the second quarter, Crump returned the pass for what appeared to be a touchdown. But a questionable block in the back call on junior defensive back Maurice Chandler wiped the points off the board and Wilkins ended up throwing an interception in the end zone to Washington defensive back Kevin King on a third and seven attempt to freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry

"They knew what we had to do, we needed to get takeaways," Graham said. "We came out and get a couple interceptions in the first half, guys are playing hard and that was a big play to take seven off the board. I don't think we got any points out of that, I think we threw an interception. So that was a very, very costly penalty."

Wilkins' struggles were pronounced in the first half, when Washington brought more blitz pressure than a typical game. He became flustered and uncertain in the pocket, and was sacked six times. A big part of it was the struggles of an offensive line that was rebuilt before the season, and has been a patchwork group in recent weeks. 

But it's a legitimate question at this point as to whether Wilkins is the best option for the team at quarterback moving forward. ASU's been trying to do everything it can to earn a sixth win and gain bowl eligibility. As much as anything, that's probably why we didn't see freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole in this game. It seems all but certain though that the quarterback position will again be up for grabs in the months between now and the start of the 2017 season. 

"When we started off we had a good opening drive and we felt good and then they were smothering after that," Graham said. "And they brought some pressure. They brought some pressure stuff and we weren't responding very well and that was really the story of the first half. We were battling hard defensively, it's just we're paying so many snaps and just not being able to generate much.

"They brought a lot of field pressure and caused us some problems, but they're a good team and the story of the night was their defense was very dominating. But I thought when they got the interception for a touchdown, that was a huge play, that killed us."

ASU was just 1-of-14 on third downs in the game, a stunning offensive failure. It faced third and long nine times (in order: third and 10, 15, 21, 7, 14, 8, 22, 10 and 11 yards).

The bright spots were few and far between for ASU, and won't lift the pall hovering over the program, but are worth mentioning nonetheless. 

Senior kicker Zane Gonzalez made his lone field goal attempt, from 50 yards out. He's now made 7-of-8 field goal attempts of 50 yards or more this season, and has made 23-of-24 field goals on the year in total. 

Harry had six catches for 114 yards and broke the single-season freshman receiving yards record at ASU, which was held by tight end Zach Miller with 552 yards. 

Sophomore tight end Jay Jay Wilson had two catches for 27 yards, both of which were impressive touchdown grabs -- the only ones thrown by Wilkins on the night. On the first, Wilkins threw a jump ball on a fourth and long situation that Wilson somehow managed to come down with. The second was a 9-yard touchdown in which he battled off the defender and contorted in the air to make a play on the ball. 

"I thought N'Keal Harry, I was very impressed with what he did tonight," Graham said. "And then Jay Jay (Wilson), I thought was really, really impressive."

Harry and Wilson are good building blocks for the future, but right now the Sun Devils are dealing with their first five-game losing streak of the Graham-era in Tempe. 

Graham's not making excuses, but is also probably smart enough to know that any such attempt would fall on deaf ears anyway. His athletic director Ray Anderson offered a strong voice of support last week on the radio, but it's going to take more than that to convince a lot of people that there's hope on the horizon. 

Right now, there's a lot of doom and gloom. A win in next week's Territorial Cup at Arizona -- a miserable football team to be sure -- is the only way for Graham to part the clouds and get some fresh air into the program in the form of a bowl game and all the extra practices that would allow. 

Absent that, the atmosphere around the program is only going to get more saturated with despair and anger. 

"Shoot, it's the Territorial Cup," Graham said. "It's the most important game of the year every year for our guys, for our fans and four these seniors. It's for a bowl game for us and so it's a big game for us."

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