November 15, 2008

Sun Devils rout Cougars for second straight win

Heading into Saturday, Arizona State hadn't recorded a shutout in 12 years.

The last time the Sun Devils held an opponent scoreless, they beat then No.1 Nebraska 19-0.

At the time, Nebraska was the reigning national champions, it had occupied the top spot in the rankings for 12 straight weeks and had won 26 straight games.

Needless to say, that win made a statement.

Saturday's 31-0 win over Washington State at Sun Devil Stadium however, was far from a statement win.

Many consider the Cougars (1-10, 0-8 Pac-10) to be the worst team in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Where as the 1996 Nebraska team was near tops in the nation in every statistical category, WSU hovering near the bottom.

But as bad as the Cougars are, ASU struggled early on before turning things around in the second half and looked like the 36-point favorites that they were.

Coach Dennis Erickson was proud of the way his defense played, but was bothered by the fact that the offense failed to score in the first quarter.

But the most important thing to him was securing another victory and inching closer to becoming bowl eligible.

"We struggled offensively in the first half, but when you play defense like that and get turnovers and shut them out, obviously, you have a pretty good chance," he said. "It's a win. It's like I told them, we're sitting here at 4-6 and trying to crawl out of that hole we're in right now. We're scratching and trying to get out of it. Any win for us right now is good.

"I would have taken 31-7. I really would have. Or 31-3."

While the shutout wasn't so important to Erickson, the defensive players all took pride in what they accomplished on the field.

They know how it is to hold an opponent scoreless and feel good about what they achieved.

"In the past couple of years we've had a couple chances [to get a shutout] that were pretty close and gave it up late," said linebacker Mike Nixon, who made his fourth interception of the year, "so to play a full 60 minutes defensively is awesome."

While ASU did end up pitching the shutout, that bid was nearly spoiled on the Cougars' opening drive.

After ASU was forced to punt the ball on the game's first possession, WSU marched 56 yards down the field before missing a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right.

That was closest WSU would get to putting up points all night.

However, after the first quarter it appeared the Sun Devils would have just as much trouble scoring as their opponents.

After 15 minutes of play, ASU held a narrow 57-47 edge in total yards with neither team putting up any points.

In the second quarter, quarterback Rudy Carpenter threw his first touchdown pass of the night, a 14-yarder to wide receiver Kerry Taylor, and kicker Thomas Weber added a field goal to put ASU up 10-0 at the half.

But ASU knew it should have been up more.

"We played terrible in the first half," said Carpenter, who finished the game 17-of-25 for 213 yards to go along with three touchdown passes. "The coaches made some good adjustments at halftime and got us into some positions to make some big plays.

"We made some adjustments in the run game to try to run the ball and again, trying to create one-on-one match ups outside."

And the biggest adjustment in the run game came by inserting running back Dimitri Nance.

Nance didn't have any carries last week or the first half of Saturday's game, and it seemed as if he was being phased out in favor of the other rushers.

But when Nance entered the game against the Cougars he made his presence felt immediately.

On ASU's second play of the third quarter, Nance received a handoff and took it 16 yards down the field and into Cougar territory.

He finished as the Sun Devils' top rusher with 47 yards on nine carries.

"Dimitri Nance gave us a spark," Erickson said. "For some reason, we weren't breaking tackles like I thought we should in the first half. So we decided to put him in there and he came in and made some awfully good runs for us."

ASU finished the game with 158 yards on the ground.

35 of those yards came from Ryan Bass, who saw his only action late in the fourth quarter. Keegan Herring and Shaun DeWitty each had 30 rushing yards.

ASU scored on its first possession after halftime on a 21-yard pass from Carpenter to wide receiver Kyle Williams.

Then the quarterback and receiver hooked up for another touchdown, this time from 51 yards out near the end of the third quarter.

"The second one, that was just a good throw by Rudy," Williams said. "I just kind of had to run a straight line and he put it there and caught me right in stride. You can't really ask for anything more as a receiver."

The Sun Devils' final score of the night came on a 21-yard fumble recovery by defensive tackle Lawrence Guy.

On the play, defensive end Luis Vasquez forced WSU quarterback J.T Levenseller way out of the pocket before forcing the fumble. Linebacker Travis Goethel kept the ball in bounds allowing Guy to scoop and score.

That score marked the third straight game ASU scored a defensive touchdown.

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