WSU’s defense gets spooky, forces five turnovers in upset victory at ASU

The Washington State Cougars (5-4, 4-2) are one game away from bowl eligibility and have control of their destiny in the race for the Pac-12 North after a 34-21 demolition of Arizona State (5-3, 3-2) on Saturday afternoon in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State turned the ball over a total of five times in the game, this included three turnovers on Sparky’s first three drives of the game.

Washington State’s fifth turnover of the game came when Jayden Daniels was flushed out of the pocket and the ball was under thrown right at Jaylen Watson towards the end of the third quarter. It put an end to the ASU drive as Daniels was clearly feeling the pass rush and the pressure of the game as he forced the ball into a window he should not have. That ended the drive that had seen ASU commit to the run with middling results.

Dean Janikowski booted a career-high 40 yard field goal with 14:54 to go in regulation to extend the Cougs lead to 24. The field goal came after quarterback Jayden de Laura miss fired on a corner route that had Donovan Ollie wide open in the end zone. It had arguably been one of Max Borghi’s best offensive drives of the 2021 season, and it really highlighted what the run and shoot can look like.

While the defense was unable to force a turnover on the next drive, they did force a three and out thanks to a huge sack on Daniels by Ron Stone Jr. that forced ASU into a third and 17. Daniels had no options down field and all of running lanes were clogged on the third down play. It felt like that defensive stop was huge because it prevented Arizona State from being able to close the gap on the scoreboard.

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The Cougars played add on in their next drive as Janikowski hit a 32-yarder for a 34-7 lead. Washington State dedicated itself to the run on the drive — only one of the 11 plays on the drive was a pass attempt, it went for seven yards. It chewed six minutes and 23 seconds off of the clock to make a comeback even more unlikely.

ASU responded with a touchdown drive of its own in garbage time. It was a one-yard touchdown run for DeaMonte Trayanum with 4:54 left on the clock. The Sun Devils scored another garbage time touchdown to cut the lead to 11 with 28 seconds left on the clock.

On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Harris was flagged for OPI which backed Washington State up. Despite a 17-yard run from Borghi on third down, the Cougs were still short of the line of gain and it resulted in a punt. Fortunately, the Sun Devils offense was completely ineffective after a 16-yard pass and they were forced to punt as well.

Both sides traded possessions with both being forced to punt on the ensuing drives. Edward’s decision to punt on fourth and two, down three scores, was either a white flag…or a major infection of coach brain.

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The Cougars fourth touchdown of the half came on a beautiful play-action pass that hit Jackson Jr. just underneath his defender. Jackson danced behind the safety, and a spectacular hands up move by Harris, to scamper the rest of the way into the end zone. It came on only the third play of the drive as the Washington State offense was absolutely explosive in the second quarter.

Daniels hit Bunkley-Shelton on a 12-yard post route to get ASU its first points of the game. That drive was a beautiful display of a two-minute offense as Arizona State was unable to particularly stretch the field, but Sparky kept hitting the underneath routes near the sidelines to march right down the field.

Washington State took a knee to run down the clock and take a 28-7 lead into the locker room and being set to receive the second half kick.

After ASU’s missed field goal, Washington State marched right down the field on 14 plays to score its third touchdown of the game when McIntosh punched it in from the one-yard line. The drive was extended by a defensive holding call on Chase Lucas as he covered Harris in the end zone on third down. WSU’s offense got into the red zone on another absolute dime from de Laura to Jackson Jr. that went for 34-yards to the ASU six.

Daniels had a touchdown run called back on a pair of holds at the line, which is what broke him free. The ensuing third and 17 ended when Daniyel Ngata was stripped by Derrick Langford after a 14-yard gain. That was Washington State’s third forced and recovered fumble in the first half.

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Harris and de Laura made the Sun Devils pays for their third turnover, in 13 plays, when de Laura hit his wideout on an absolute dime of a throw for a 28-yard score that gave Washington State a 14-0 lead.

This drive also saw McIntosh return to the lineup after he missed the last couple of games due to an injury. The senior carried the ball three times for 30-yards, his first carry of the game was an explosive 18-yarder.

Edwards’ squad responded with a drive of its own. But on successive downs, the Cougar defense came up clutch and stuffed ASU’s offense to force a turnover on downs.

Unfortunately for WSU, de Laura’s shovel pass to Borghi too high and the tailback was unable to bring it in. Merlin Robertson snagged the ball out of the air for Sparky’s first turnover of the game. Even worse news for Washington State was that de Laura was slow to get up after the hit, he did walk off under his own power. The Washington State defense forced a three and out which led to a missed 32-yard field goal after a false start had wiped out the made 28-yarder.

Arizona State’s second drive ended on its first play after Thompson caught a 12-yard pass from Daniela. But it was stripped by Derrick Langford and recovered by Rogers. It was the second straight fumble on consecutive plays that the WSU defense has forced and recovered.

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Seven plays later de Laura punched it into the end zone on a one-yard run off of the read option keeper. It came three plays after Harris had come up short of the end zone on a diving catch at the goal line and after Sparky had extended the Washington State drive with a face mask penalty after Borghi had been stopped short of the line of game. It was the first time WSU’s squad had capitalized on a turnover to give the Cougs a 7-0 lead midway through the first.

Arizona State responded by driving right into WSU territory, this included a questionable conversion on third and 14. Chau Smith-Wade put an end to the drive with an interception off of on an impressive diving catch in front of the wideout. It was ASU’s third turnover in its first three drives.

The Washington State defense forced the first turnover of the game on ASU’s second play from scrimmage. Clark was stripped of the ball as he was still standing and it bounced around before it was recovered by Amir Mujahid. It was Stone Jr. who stripped the ball out on the tackle.

Unfortunately, the Cougars went three and out after the turnover. Dickert went for it on fourth and three at Arizona State’s 32 but they only picked up one yard on the wide receiver screen that was blown up before the ball even in the air.

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Post game thoughts

  • Washington State was in complete control from the very beginning of this game and it wasn’t even close. The Cougar defense sent a message by forcing three turnovers on ASU’s first three drives of the game. It was an impressive showing for Dickert’s defense, especially considering that Arizona State still rolled up 395 yards of offense.
  • Both squads averaged 4.1 yards per carry on the ground, but the real difference was on yards per completion. Washington State averaged 13.8 yards per completed pass while the Sun Devils averaged 10.6.
  • It was the Cougar offense’s big play ability, combined with the turnovers generated by the defense, that led to a comfortable win for Washington State in a building they’ve traditionally struggled at.
  • 5.8 yards per play is alright an alright average, but it’s not going to win you a ton of games unless the defense can consistently generate turnovers and pressure like the Cougars did on Saturday.

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Photo Credit: Arianna Grainey

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