TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State, which occasionally breaks out of its Fiesta Bowl format to appear in the Holiday Bowl or the Garden State Bowl, outlined bolder plans Saturday night when it toppled some Pacific 10 eminence, the mighty, the stable, the never-make-a-mistake Washington Huskies.
Of course, you've seen this movie before. Like last season, when the Sun Devils throttled the poor Huskies here, they are again waiting in line to play in the Rose Bowl. But unlike last season, it may take more than an upset by rival Arizona down the road to keep them out.
Never mind the dominance that Saturday night's 34-21 score suggests. Consider instead how quickly the Sun Devils (7-0-1 overall and 4-0-1 in the Pac-10) established said dominance. It was 17-0 before the first quarter ended, and the Sun Devils exceeded Washington's average yield--61.6 yards rushing--by 15 yards on its first drive.
And so it went, with Arizona State amassing Rose Bowl credibility with each statistical edge. It is no fluke it sits atop the conference, its baffling tie with Washington State the only blemish on its record. Now that it has beaten Washington, in addition to USC and UCLA, you have to say it belongs there.
At least you have to say Washington doesn't. The Huskies, who began the season in a blaze with monstrous defeats of Ohio State and Brigham Young, have become just another conference team, unable to mount the big game on the road. Despite all their defensive statistics, the Huskies (6-2 and 4-2) have been poor away from home, losing to USC and struggling with Stanford before dismantling itself in Sun Devil Stadium before 71,589 fans.
Know, first of all, that the Huskies take an inordinate pride in their ability to force turnovers, while making few themselves. They are in the top 10 in the country in this statistic. Yet, when Arizona State wasn't taking the game away, Washington was giving it away.
It is, of course, astonishing to learn that Arizona State had two backs gain more than 100 yards against the nation's No. 2 defense--fullback Channing Williams gained 154 yards and Darryl Harris added 108--or that quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst threw for 167 yards.
But it is truly amazing to learn that Arizona State was the team forcing the turnovers. A former quarterback from Pasadena, linebacker Stacy Harvey, accounted for two of them, intercepting Washington's Chris Chandler once in the end zone to halt a drive that might have brought the Huskies within three points, and again in the third quarter. That interception led to the Sun Devils' final score.
Well, Arizona State didn't get them all. Jeff Joseph fumbled a punt return to begin the second quarter and breathe new life into the Huskies. They scored immediately and again on their next possession to give the game its illusion of competition. But, mostly, everything the Huskies normally do well, the Sun Devils excelled at.
It is hard, as always, to say what part psychology had to play in this game. Presumably, Washington was anxious to avenge a 36-7 loss here last season. But consider this wonder of motivation. And keep in mind these are young men whose minds are easily molded.
There is a sign that hangs inside the stadium that reads: "This is the Devil's House." The Huskies tore the sign down upon taking the field.
ASU Coach John Cooper was properly mortified. "When you're the enemy, you just don't do that," he said. "You can bet we used that to fire up the team before the game, and at halftime, we talked about it."
You can hear the Huskies now. Hey, guys, it's just a board. We've got lots of them up northwest. Sheesh!
Whenever the fire was lit, you could watch it spread on the field, beginning with the coin toss. On the Sun Devils' first drive, they went 77 yards in 10 plays, topped by a Harris sprint off tackle for 24 yards and a touchdown. If Washington couldn't hold them, they couldn't move them either. In that critical first period, Washington managed just one first down, and Arizona State's junior backs ran at will.
Still, Washington was hardly out of it. After Chandler hit Darryl Franklin with a 38-yarder to the deep corner of the end zone, the Huskies trailed by just 24-14. And it was almost closer at halftime, until a Chandler pass was tipped into Harvey's hands.
Then, it was all over, of course, as Cooper was able to remind the team anew about that damn board. Momentum was re-established.
Actually, this was a game between two mighty similar teams. Arizona State is not unlike Washington in that it is big across the line, the teams hardly ever make mistakes and both favor ground games. For all the trumpeting of Washington's defense, ASU's is not bad, fourth in the conference. And this turnover business, it's not all Washington. Arizona State hadn't lost a fumble in its four previous games.
But after the game, Washington Coach Don James said they weren't all that similar. ASU was a little better. "Arizona State has picked us apart two years in a row," he said. "They are the best offensive team we've faced this season, and are good defensively as well."
He added, somewhat needlessly: "The Rose Bowl doesn't look very good from our end. ASU is in the driver's seat."
Well, the team that outgained Washington, 440 yards to 350, Saturday night is in the driver's seat all the way to Tucson, where presumably it finalizes its travel plans.