TEMPE, Ariz. — The quarterback’s head was better, and so was the rest of the team, the fog of last week’s debacle lifted with an overwhelming victory.
Now comes the hard part.
Steven Threet returned from last week’s concussion to throw for 300 yards and hit Jamal Miles on two of his three touchdown passes, helping the Sun Devils keep their slim bowl hopes alive with a dominating 42-0 win over Washington State Saturday night.
“We needed a win,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. “We don’t have much room for error to accomplish the goal that we want, which is to go to a bowl game. Coming off the performance we had a week ago, obviously it was good to see us come out and compete and show a lot of character because that’s not easy to do.”
Before the California game last week, Arizona State (4-4, 2-3) had been competitive, even in losing. The Sun Devils backpedaled in Berkeley, unable to stop the Bears defensively, while failing to score an offensive touchdown for the first time in two years.
The 50-17 loss left Arizona State with a daunting final stretch, needing to win four of its final five games to become bowl eligible. Three of those are against ranked teams — USC, Stanford and rival Arizona — so the Sun Devils had to have this one.
Resolute to shake off the embarrassment they felt the week before, Arizona State never gave Washington State (1-8, 0-6) a chance at the upset, overwhelming the Cougars with its rapid-fire offense.
Threet led the way, hitting 26 of 32 passes before sitting out the final 24 minutes after a 7-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Marshall, who also scored on the ground.
The defense was just as dominant, holding Washington State to 8 yards rushing while forcing three turnovers — two on first-half interceptions of Jeff Tuel — for the Sun Devils’ first shutout in two years.
“We stepped up and put the game last week behind us instead of having a hangover,” said LeQuan Lewis, who had one of the interceptions. “We didn’t worry about how many points we gave up and the mistakes we had made. If we just stay consistent and believe in what we’ve got, we’ll be very good.”
Washington State had made noticeable progress this season in its rebuilding project under coach Paul Wulff, the defense coming together the past few weeks, the offense thriving under the quickly-maturing Tuel.
All that was missing was a Pac-10 win. The Cougars beat second-tier Montana State in September, but hadn’t won in the conference since knocking off rival Washington in double overtime two years ago.
Based on Arizona State’s Bay Area debacle, Washington State figured to have a glimmer of hope, even as 21-point underdogs.
Arizona State blew that out like a pilot light, burying the Cougars with a barrage of quick-hitting plays and an stifling-again defense in its first home game in 34 days.
“It was clearly our worst performance of the year,” Wulff said. “We didn’t do anything right. We weren’t very emotional and we were flat — we didn’t execute in any phase. I thought we’d been very mentally up for four or five weeks in a row and had played that way. Today we weren’t, and it comes back on me. I have to do a better job.”
Threet was the catalyst for Arizona State’s offense, picking the Cougars apart on underneath throws and deep outs.
Threet was 9 of 10 for 63 yards on Arizona State’s nearly-flawless opening drive, capped by Marshall’s 7-yard touchdown run past a drive-a-car-through hole on the left side. The second drive was even more efficient: four plays, 68 yards, Threet hitting Miles on a 9-yard swing pass through an equally-large hole.
After Deantre Lewis added a 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, Threet capped the dominating half with another quick-hitter, leading the Sun Devils on a three-play, 56-yard drive. He finished it off with a deftly-placed 18-yard TD pass to Miles at the edge of the end zone, putting Arizona State up 28-0 at the half.
Threet was 23 for 29 for 237 yards by halftime and opened the second half with the early TD to Marshall on a swing pass. He was done after that, replaced by backup Brock Osweiler, the bounce-back game all but complete.
“Obviously, it left a bad taste in our mouths and we wanted to come out and perform well in this game,” Threet said. “Just like we had to move on from Cal, we have to move on from this one and get ready for USC.”
It didn’t go so well for Tuel.
He was coming off a 298-yard game against Stanford, but had a hard time solving Arizona State’s speedy defense. Tuel threw a wobbly interception on Washington State’s third possession and ended the only sustained drive of the first half with an up-for-grabs throw that Lewis pulled down in the end zone for another pick.
Tuel finished 17 for 26 for 200 yards before being replaced by Marshall Lobbestael midway through the fourth quarter, with Washington State’s conference losing streak extended for another week.
“We came out flat, no doubt,” Tuel said. “There was just kind of a look in some guys’ faces like their dog died, and we couldn’t get out of it. I have no explanation for it. Weird.”