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All week long, chatter about the weather on Saturday in Seattle had been a cause of concern for Sun Devils. Predicted to be in the 50s and rainy, it was a daunting thought for desert dwellers, as they’re not used to braving the elements. It didn’t seem to bother ASU much, though, as they really began to heat up when the rain started coming down.
Arizona State showed extreme tenacity and mental grit in a 35-30 come-from-behind win at Husky Stadium on Saturday. In addition to playing well through the rain, the Sun Devils were able to overcome a number of internal and external factors like injuries and penalties to come out on top.
“In the rain, the cold, coming up here and just seeing them fight all the way through,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “They didn’t quit and there was a lot of adversity. A lot of adversity through that whole thing and you never saw the guys get down. You never saw them hang their heads.”
Similar to the game against USC, the Sun Devils were able to find their stride in the fourth quarter. Different, though, from the triumphant win against the Trojans, was the path to victory. This week, Arizona State had a much more complex set of of issues to overcome.
“The perseverance, getting down, dealing with adversity, I thought really said something about these guys,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “We got down 14 early and then we just kept pecking away, kept pecking away, and the game never got away from us, but we needed to score.”
Edwards noted the 20-play drive in the fourth quarter as being a defining moment for the team. Knowing they needed to muster up the energy and focus to win, the Sun Devils were able to come together at the wire and execute.
“We just hung in there, hung in there, and made enough plays and got our energy going and found a way to win,” Edwards said.
Saturday’s victory over Washington makes 12 out of the last 14 matchups where the Sun Devils have come out on top.
Injury-stricken roster puts additional players to the test
There were a number of players out this week for Arizona State, most notably Shannon Foreman and Henry Hattis. Both offensive linemen went down in the game against USC, leaving big shoes to fill.
In place of Foreman, redshirt junior Corey Stephens got the start under center. Stepping up for Hattis, redshirt sophomore Spencer Lovell got the start at right guard.
With Jayden Daniels already struggling to find his swagger this season, the weakened offensive line didn’t help. Knowing injuries would be an additional setback for the team, it put even more pressure on the running back core to produce.
Nobody took this challenge more personally than Rachaad White. After stepping up to carry a brunt of the load against USC last week, he did the same thing against Washington on Saturday.
“White has done a fabulous job of running,” Edwards said. “The more you see him carry the ball, the more you just kind of watch him and go, ‘Wow.'”
Last week, White’s efforts helped disguise the offensive struggles in the win. Once again, White helped get the Sun Devils back on track as he fought for every yard.
White’s active leadership on the field shines bright
White led the team for both rushing and receiving yards on the night. On 32 carries, he generated 184 yards and two touchdowns. He also had five receptions for 53 yards in the game. Of Arizona State’s 376 total offensive yards, White accounted for 237 of them.
In case you were wondering, that was just over 63 percent of the Sun Devils’ offensive production on the night.
“That’s what he’s all about,” Hill said. “That’s what makes him great. He wants to be in there, he doesn’t want to come out. He wants the ball. Give it to him more.”
The offensive efforts were the most apparent in a 20-play drive in the fourth quarter of the game. Slowly but surely chopping away, the Sun Devils were able to overcome some critical errors to reach the end zone.
After a touchdown was called back because of a penalty, it set Arizona State up for a third-and-16. For the first time in the game, the Sun Devils were able to convert on third down with less than a quarter of play remaining. Daniels dumped the ball off to White, who miraculously picked up the first down.
White continued to pound the rock down the field, opening up the opportunity for Daniels to make a dash to the end zone himself. Fighting off the dogs, he was able to cross the line to give the Devils a chance in the race.
“Daniels ran his butt off and when he scored on that one, he was not open and he found a way to get in,” Hill said. “The heart, the effort, was there.
“That’s a long drive, and it’s just methodically moving the ball,” Edwards added. “It was just kind of fun to watch. But it says something about the team, in the fourth quarter, having to do that on the road. It says a lot.”
For Arizona State, it was the most number of plays in a drive since Dennis Erickson was early in his tenure. In 2008, the Sun Devils were able to punch in a game-winning touchdown at Oregon State following a 22-play drive.
The win encapsulates the true meaning of it being a “total team effort.” Not only did multiple people need to step up and contribute, but they had to work together too.
Offense forced to overcome self-inflicted wounds
Two of the biggest factors determining the outcome of this game were the number of turnovers for Arizona State and the amount of penalties accrued.
Arizona State had two turnovers in the game. The first and most costly came late in the third quarter. Daniels was picked off by Alex Cook on a pass targeting Ricky Pearsall. From there, Washington was able to capitalize on the drive, making it a two-score game one again.
Edwards noted the rainy conditions made it difficult to throw the ball at times during the game, as it was slippery and hard to grip. Hill, touching on the strength of Washington’s passing defense, said the backfield further complicated things.
Knowing the Sun Devils were going to have to attack the ground hard for most of the game, Edwards and Hill both mentioned how they tried to get Daniels into a flow early. Unfortunately, he still didn’t quite find his swagger going into the half.
However, after struggling when coming back out and tossing an interception, Hill said they decided to commit their efforts to attacking the run. Hill said he’s never had a situation quite like this before, really having to stray away from the pass.
The second turnover was a fumble at the end of the game, when Washington attempted an onside kick. Given the field conditions, in addition to the high probability of a turnover for the play, a fumble wasn’t incredibly surprising. Linebacker Kyle Soelle did his best to come down with the ball, but he just couldn’t snag it. With less than a minute left, the defense was able to do their job to make up for the fumble.
Penalties are another issue being repeatedly questioned since the start of the season. After the game at Washington, it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of improving. Once again, the Sun Devils had nine penalties for 94 yards. Washington, on the other hand, only had one penalty for three yards.
One of the most devastating flags of the night was against Kellen Diesch. On what would have been a 40-yard touchdown run for White, the lineman was called for holding. White’s touchdown was waved off, and it put the Sun Devils in a stressful third-and-16 situation.
“I’m really mad at that moment but you’ve got to get to the next play,” Hill said. “You’ve got to figure out what you’re doing on the next call and try to see what the defense is doing so you can capitalize on that.”
At this point in the season, the number of penalties create a lot of concern. Clearly, there’s been little progress made in reducing the number of flags despite constant attention from the coaching staff. Leading up to a road game against Oregon State, the looming penalty issue has a lot of people on edge. Corvallis, according to a number of current and former Pac-12 players, is one of the hardest road venues in the conference.
Down but not out, Sun Devils defense makes up for slow start with a strong finish
Defensively, the Sun Devils got off to a bit of a slow start. Washington looked to easily make its way down the field to score back-to-back touchdowns on its first two drives of the game. It gave ASU offense little wiggle room from early on, as they were almost instantly playing from behind.
According to Edwards, the Huskies saw success by execute plays along the parameter where ASU was struggling to adjust. Edwards said it was largely due to the players initially not doing their job at the start of the game. He said they knew they had to force the Huskies to run the ball inside.
“If you watch all those plays on the perimeter, either screens or some kind of run on the perimeter, and we got caught inside and we didn’t contain,” Edwards said.
He said as soon as they were able to adjust, it really helped slow down Washington’s productivity on the parameters. From there, the Sun Devils were able to start picking up more steam. On more than one occasion, ASU’s defense was able to completely disrupt the rhythm of the game for Washington.
A fumble recovery by Tyler Johnson taken all the way back to the Washington nine-yard-line left Husky Stadium collectively letting out a depressing sigh. It only took two plays for Arizona State to score, capitalizing on the turnover to bring the game within three.
Hands down, this was the biggest momentum-shifting play of the game to get things rolling for the Sun Devils.
Merlin Robertson, who has had a quiet productive season, finally was able to make some noise in the win. He was able to essentially seal the deal with a pick-six to extend ASU’s lead late.
Final thoughts on the night
It wasn’t a pretty win, but late in the season under harsh weather conditions, the Sun Devils proved their ability to overcome obstacles. In previous games, Arizona State has lacked the necessary urgency to get the job done and has struggled to come together to work as a team. Looking to quiet the naysayers, their mental tenacity on Saturday makes a statement about their growth.
“For us to come from behind and get the win, I’m just excited for the players right now,” Hill said.
While Hill said he was excited, he knows they can’t focus on the win for too long. Next week, they’ll be on the road facing a rising Oregon State team. The Sun Devil coaching staff is already anticipating a gritty battle in next week’s Pac-12 After Dark game.
“Every week, you get a new opportunity and we’re going to play a tough Oregon State team,” Edwards said. “They like to run the ball. They have a really nice offense, they do a nice job offensively of creating some things and we played them last year in conditions like this, so here we go again.”