To borrow from basketball, “survive and advance”.
WSU surged to a 37-21 lead early in the fourth quarter and then held on for dear life at the end to beat Arizona State, 37-32 in Tempe, Ariz. The Cougars moved to 5-2 overall, and remained undefeated in the Pac-12 at 4-0.
Arizona State (5-3, 2-3) was by no means a push-over, but the questionable health of the Sun Devils’ quarterback, defensive strengths this year, and recent trajectory hinted that Washington State might be a real unfavorable match-up for them on Homecoming.
Instead, the Sun Devils marched on WSU and jumped (literally, for the first TD) out to an early 14-3 lead as the Cougs worked through some offensive issues that looked eerily similar to the Boise State game.
Manny Wilkins was injured on a sack mid-way through the first quarter, after going 5-of-6 for 39 yards with a rushing TD where he hurdled Marcellus Pippins...in case you didn’t catch the couple dozen times they replayed it during the game. Fourth string quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole finished out the game going 7-of-16 for 86 yards.
The Wazzu offense was unpredictably Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on various drives throughout the game, but did manage to string together consecutive scoring drives with a 29 yard field goal from Erik Powell, kick off return touchdown by Robert Taylor — the first kick return since Sammy Moore in 2003 and first special teams TD since a Michael Bumpus punt return in 2005 — and a thread the needle TD to Tavares Martin from nine yards out to end the first half up 17-14.
Quarterback Luke Falk started slow but finished the game completing 42-of-53 passes for 398 yards and three TDs. The maligned ASU secondary did well to force Falk to be surgical underneath, completing passes to 10 different receivers.
This was by far the worst performance from the offensive line this season. Falk was sacked 7 times, hurried a lot more than that, and hit on most of those hurries. Despite looking like he suffered a left shoulder injury, Falk remained in the game for the final two series and guided Wazzu into bleeding out the clock late.
WSU jumped ahead by a few touchdowns in the second half and held on as the Sun Devils, bolstered by their version of the Wildcat offense with direct snaps to Kalen Ballage chipped away at the lead. A missed assignment on a simple interior power run from the Wildcat formation saw Ballage scamper for a 52 yard touchdown, their biggest play of the night outside of a punt return that hit pay-dirt.
Wazzu’s best play of the night came on a 52 yard bomb down the sideline to Gabe Marks, who had gained a few steps on his defender and stiff armed him for the final 10 yards before the end zone.
Not the prettiest of wins, but a win is a win and those don’t come to often in Tempe for WSU. On to next week and the Oregon State Beavers.