The Arizona State Sun Devils returned home after a hard-fought win in the chilly northwest last weekend and extended their win-streak to four beating 17th-ranked Utah 19-16 in overtime at Sun Devil Stadium. With the win the #14 Devils improve to 7-1, 5-1 and hold the inside track to defending their Pac-12 South title, taking sole possession of first-place after UCLA defeated then one-loss Arizona in Pasadena.
Here are five things we learned in the win.
You Never Forget Your First…ASU played their first overtime game in the Todd Graham Era and with the win set up a possible playoff elimination game against Brian Kelly’s 10th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1) next weekend. One thing the Pac-12 has proven in 2014 is there are no layups, particularly in the South where five of the six teams have at least six wins and all five are bowl eligible with a month of the regular season to play. It certainly looked shaky at times, especially in the third quarter, but Graham improved to 22-0 when the Devils have a halftime lead.
“I love coaching these guys,” said Graham after the game. “The character and belief in what we’re doing. I’m just really proud of them. I’m prude of Zane (Gonzalez). Zane’s big time. He’s the best kicker I’ve ever coached.”
Super (De)Mario…freshman running back DeMario Richard gave the Sun Devils’ rushing attack a much-needed shot in the arm tallying 116 yards on just 14 carries (8.3/attempt) helping keep ASU’s offense somewhat balanced and Utah’s defense honest. The talented Palmdale, California native busted a 32-yard run in the second quarter. Richard had 164 rushing yards all season before Saturday.
“He is really going to be a fantastic back,” said Graham of Richard. “I think if he just keeps learning…Our running back core is special.”
TaylorMade…senior quarterback Taylor Kelly won’t be the hot topic of conversation on any highlight shows for his performance against the Utes but no one can question his ability to do the thing which is most important to Arizona State Football: win games. His decision-making was far from perfect (frequently trying to force the ball downfield to Jaelen Strong) and his passing stats pedestrian (18-32, 205 yards, TD, INT) but he did contribute 55 of ASU’s 239 rushing yards adding a dimensional lacking in his absence last month. Bottom line: he’s 20-5 in his last 25 starts.
“We just kept hurting ourselves whether it was penalties, missed reads, sacks, those types of things,” explained Kelly. “Utah is a great defense and you can’t do that to yourself. You know, put yourself in that position.”
We’re Going Streaking!…Arizona State can be just as maddening as they are exciting on both sides of the ball. Saturday was no different against Kyle Whittingham’s solid team. The Devils’ offensive line had trouble containing the Utes stoat front and were flagged for a number of rare and untimely penalties. ASU dominated the first half but saw their halftime lead evaporate after a mostly listless third quarter. Utah more than doubled their first half yardage output in the third quarter alone (204-97). Mike Norvell’s offense was held scoreless and managed only 55 total yards in the third quarter.
No Fly Zone…credit Lloyd Carrington, Jordan Simone, Damarious Randall and the rest of the Sun Devil secondary for completely neutralizing a Utah passing attack clearly missing leading receiver Dres Anderson who was lost last week to a season-ending knee injury. Quarterback Travis Wilson had nearly as many rushing yards (44) as passing (57) and averaged just 2.6 yards per attempt in the air. The Sun Devil scoring defense continues to improve allowing just 17.5 points in their last four games after UCLA scored 62 back in late September.
“Our preparation leads to our success on Saturdays,” mentioned Simone. “We just work hard in practice. I really do believe that we are the hardest working team in the country and it shows in times like this.”