What began as a balmy, overcast day with clouds hovering over the valley - similar to those that have hung over the Arizona State (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) football team for the past four weeks - became a refreshing return to the seasonal norm in Tempe. Just as quickly as the clouds blew away, so did ASU's losing streak. Behind an inspired and total team effort, the Sun Devils routed the Cougars (29-, 0-8), sending this year's senior class off with a resounding win.
"It meant a lot today to get that victory," said senior linebacker Brandon Magee afterwards. "Coming out that tunnel, man, I can't even describe it. I had, like, a stomach ache. It was a weird feeling, especially at the end of the game. But to hear the fans' appreciation that they have for the seniors here, and for the team, it really made my day. I'll remember it forever.
"Getting a win, coming off all of those losses, it felt great. Especially with it being senior day, you've got to go out the right way and we went out the right way."
The Sun Devil offense set the tone for the game, jumping ahead early, quickly erasing any doubt that the Sun Devils' woes would continue any longer. After settling for a field goal on their first offensive possession of the afternoon despite being given favorable field position after a botched Washington State punt attempt, the Sun Devil offense came to life, lighting the Cougar defense up for 32 first half points, before cruising throughout the second half.
Taylor Kelly led the way, completing 20-23 passes, including all of his last 18 attempts (a school record), for 246 and four touchdowns. He effectively spread the ball around, as nine different Sun Devils had catches on the afternoon, including tight end Chris Coyle, who hauled in three receptions and two touchdowns.
"We had been focusing all week on coming out fast and speeding up the tempo a little bit," said Coyle. "It's something that we noticed in the past few games, that teams just can't keep up with it. There have been times where we sort of let down on our tempo in the past and that's when teams are able to hang with us, so we really wanted to emphasize that this game and I think that's how we were able to come out so fast.
"Emotions were really high because we wanted to have these seniors go out the right way with a win. That was one of the main reasons why we came out so fast."
Helping pace the ASU aerial attack on Saturday were fellow seniors Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles. Suiting up for his final game in front of the home crowd, Ross saved his best for last, leading the team with eight catches and 79 yards, to go along with two touchdowns of his own.
"That felt great to me because earlier on, we weren’t really producing as receivers and today it seemed like we all clicked," he commented. "It wasn't just me catching balls; Jamal caught some balls, Chris caught some balls. We were all just feeding off each other’s energy."
"Yeah, you know, Rashad was a playmaker for us today," said Kelly about his standout receiver. "He was beating his corner and getting open for me. He did a great job for us today."
As a whole, the Sun Devil offense looked more like the high-octane machine that overwhelmed its opponents during the season's first half. On Saturday, ASU amassed 561 on offense behind a balanced attack. Cameron Marshall paved the way on the ground, leading the team with 77 yards rushing.
Despite having two turnovers, the Sun Devils still were able to dominate offensively, moving the ball with ease, providing a little confidence to a unit that had been struggling recently as they prepare for the Friday's season finale in Tucson.
"Just getting our confidence back like we did today, we were really able to produce on the field," remarked Coyle. "I think one of the biggest parts of it was getting back to our run first offense. That really opened up the receivers. Just pounding the ball. The first couple of series we ran pretty much every single play. Once we were able to do that, it loosened up the secondary. Guys like Ross and Kevin Ozier were getting open. It was a perfect game plan for this game."
But the Sun Devil offense was only half the story on Saturday as the ASU defense thwarted any attempt by the visiting Cougars to extend the team's four game losing streak. Entering the game as the Pac-12's top passing offense, the Cougars' passing game was smothered by the ASU's defensive secondary, only totaling 240 yards through the air, nearly 130 less than they had been averaging.
"We had good coverage from our corners, first off," commented Magee. "Our safeties in the back, they gave us some good calls to our linebackers. They were calling a lot of what we had to do. And we played a lot of man to man, so that was a big job by them especially. And we got some pressure on the quarterback as well, when we needed to."
Washington State (2-9, 0-8) had been blanked in their last two trips to Tempe, losing by a combined score of 103-0, and was in serious jeopardy of suffering a similar fate. Under stifling defensive pressure from beginning to end, the Cougars were forced to settle for a late fourth quarter touchdown and only one yard rushing in the effort.
"The running game, honestly, we played a lot of nickel and a lot of rat coverage, which is off of the pass," said Magee. "So that means our defensive line did a great job of mixing it up and running some stunts and getting in there and being effective on the run."
Now, without the burden of a dreaded losing streak and the relief of being bowl eligible once again, the Sun Devils can turn their attention to preparing for their arch-rival, Arizona, this Friday in Tucson. Not only will it be the first showdown between head coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez, it'll be a chance at revenge for the Sun Devils after suffering a disappointing defeat to the Wildcats in last year's thriller in Tempe.
"It's extra special going over there," said Magee on the rivalry. "I like playing them better over there than over here, honestly, because the looks on their faces in 2010…priceless. Priceless. And people don't forget. And when they came over here last year and were dancing all up on our A and stuff like that, I don't forget that either."
For Magee, it'll be an opportunity to face former high school teammate and current Wildcat starting quarterback, Matt Scott. But despite their long-time friendship, Magee insists that he won't let that effect on the field on Friday night, as the chance to snare a final win on the road is all he's focused on.
"Completely out the window," said Magee of their friendship. "I'm not even going to say hi to the man. I'm going to pick him up off the floor.
"I'm ready for them. I'm amped up right now. You know, let's get going."