CORVALLIS, OR (3TV/CBS 5) -- It was a perfect setup for a letdown.
Coming off a resounding win over archrival Arizona, Arizona State was hitting the road for the third time in four games to play Oregon State in a game that was basically an exhibition.
For good measure, the game was played under a steady cold rain. The Sun Devils would perhaps be forgiven for not playing their best.
Instead, ASU used a dominant ground game to run for 375 yards and six touchdowns in a 46-33 victory. The win improves the Sun Devils' record to 2-2 on the shortened season.
"These last two games, we just let it fly," said ASU safety DeAndre Pierce, who registered his first interception of the season.
While reaching the .500 mark made the Sun Devils bowl eligible, the team announced after the game that they would decline any postseason game.
“The key going into this game was we didn’t want to have a losing season,” said ASU head coach Herm Edwards said. “We got to 2-2, and we’re going to give our athletes rest.”
Saturday night's win brings to a close a challenging season for the Sun Devils. Picked by some to be a darkhorse contender in the Pac-12, ASU lost a heartbreaking game to USC in the season opener before battling a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in three consecutive game cancelations.
While a 2-2 record was not a result anyone in the program had hoped for or expected, the two-game winning streak provides positive momentum to take into 2021.
“I’m happy and proud of the players for all they had to go through this season," said Edwards. "This has been the hardest season for me in my whole life, as an athlete playing football or as a coach. At every level.”
"We started getting our sea legs the last two games."
The game began on a worrisome note for the Sun Devils.
In the steady and chilly rain (kickoff temperature was 51 degrees), ASU went three-and-out on their opening possession following three incomplete passes. Oregon State responded by running the ball on 10 of the 12 plays on a 67-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Chase Nolan to Tyjon Lindsey.
The early 7-0 hole could have presented the Sun Devils an opportunity to fold up and get out of town. However, they struck back on the ground. Keyed by a 51-yard run by Rachaad White, the Sun Devils marched down the field to tie the game on a 2-yard DeaMonte Trayanum touchdown run.
ASU then blocked an Oregon State punt to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jayden Daniels to put the Sun Devils ahead. The onslaught continued as ASU safety Evan Fields forced a fumble on the ensuing Beaver possession that was recovered by Jermayne Lole. On the very next play, Daniels hit Geordon Porter for a 63-yard touchdown to put ASU up 19-7.
“Hitting that one shot early with GP loosened them up a little bit,” said ASU offensive coordinator Zak Hill. “If you hit those shots you intend to hit, it really helps.”
White's 4-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter increased ASU's lead to 26-7, a margin made more impactful given that ASU was missing key weapons at wide receiver and tight end due to COVID-19 protocols.
“Had some guys out and had to make some adjustments,” Hill said. “The guys stepped up. The O-line, the running backs we needed to handle the line of scrimmage, they did a good job of that.”
Oregon State closed to 26-15 at halftime thanks to a 1-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Jack Colletto. Even though they were trailing, OSU still had managed to put up 151 yards rushing in the first half.
“This is a hard offense,” Edwards said of the Beavers. "This is a team that every year we play them, I go, ‘We’re going to have our hands full with these guys.'"
ASU increased their lead early in the third quarter on a dazzling 53-yard touchdown un by Daniels, during which he stiff-armed a Beaver defender.
“(Daniels) always comes to me on the bench, ‘You didn’t think I could do that.’ I said, ‘Stop showing off,'" Edwards said. "He knows when he starts running that I’m hollering, ‘Get down!’” He just kept going, so good for him.”
However, Colletto's 11-yard touchdown run answered back, keeping the Beavers in the game.
It was then that White unleashed another long run for ASU. The junior college transfer ran 55 yards for a touchdown on the next drive to put the Sun Devils ahead 40-21. It was White's fifth play from scrimmage of at least 50 yards in just four games.
"I feel like I'm proving myself each and every day," said White, who ran for a team-high 158 yards. "That doesn't stop, being a (junior college transfer)."
“He’s an explosive, explosive kid," said Hill of White. "I’m glad I got him for a couple of years.”
Despite the deficit, Oregon State continued to battle. A trick play on fourth-and-1 resulted in a 46-yard reception by Teagan Quitoriano that set up another Nolan touchdown pass to close the gap to 40-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
That would be the last real threat from the Beavers.
A bad snap on a punt set ASU up inside the Oregon State 30-yard line early in the final quarter, and Ricky Pearsall scored on a 29-yard touchdown run on the next play. From there, ASU's defense held the Beavers in check until a meaningless touchdown on the game's final play.
“We had to make sure some of the guys who had to step up were ready, and they were," Fields said.
As the team left the field for the final time in 2020, Edwards' message for his team was simple.
"I’m proud of them," Edwards said. "I told them I was proud to be their coach."
The Big Picture
In the season opening loss to USC, ASU let a 13-point lead get away from them in the last three minutes. After returning to face UCLA after the three-week COVID-19 layoff, the Sun Devils were rusty in the first half before taking a lead late in the fourth quarter that they let slip away.
Despite the strong victories over the final two games, the Sun Devils are left with a strong sense of What If?
“We put ourselves in this situation,” Daniels said. “We should have been 4-0. We should have been playing yesterday (in the Pac-12 championship game).”
Saturday's game was an imperfect showing to finish an imperfect season, but it hinted at both what could have been and what can soon be.
The Sun Devils figure to return most of the key players from this year's team. With many young players having received playing time in 2020, along with the expected addition of several transfer players, depth should be in the Sun Devils' favor.
Off the field, the challenges the team faced and overcame during this difficult season figures to be a great asset.
"We had to do a lot of growing up," said Fields, who declined to answer whether he would return in 2021. "We had to go through a lot of adversity."
Given the talented roster and the season-ending momentum, ASU should once again be looked at as Pac-12 contenders in 2021. Whether they can take better advantage next season remains to be seen.
“Going forward, we’re just going to build on these last two games we were able to play," Daniels said.
ASU is scheduled to open the season on Sept. 4 against Southern Utah.
The Next Step
The Sun Devils opted not to pursue a bowl game. Instead, they will return to the field for spring practices, tentatively slated for a February start.
In a postgame statement, Edwards had this to say about the decision:
"Our number one priority has always been the well-being of our players, and we are making this decision based upon that. Our players have worked extremely hard since they returned to campus this summer, and they have shown tremendous resiliency in dealing with adversity and challenges each and every day. We're proud of what they have accomplished and of the way they have handled everything on and off the field. We look forward to beginning our preparations for the 2021 season when they return to campus January 11."
The Extra Points
- The 375 rushing yards were the second-most for ASU under Edwards, trailing the 396 against Oregon State in 2018.
- White has topped 100 all-purpose yards in each of the four games this season.
- ASU has forced nine turnovers over the last two games, resulting in 48 points.