Todd Graham laid out his 2013 expectations for the Arizona State Sun Devils in fall camp with crystal clarity: Rose Bowl or bust. After a shaky 3-2 start, ASU has won four straight games to run their record to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play to sit at the top of the Pac 12 South standings with three games to go. The secret to their success and the reason they can finish strong and win the division in 2013 is the balance this team has achieved between an explosive offense and dominant defense.
Heading into Week 12, Arizona State is one of only five teams in the country to rank in the top 20 for both total offense and total defense. The Sun Devils rank No. 17 in offense, averaging 490.4 yards per game, and are putting up 43.7 points per game, good for No. 8 in college football. Their defense ranks No. 14 in the nation allowing just 332.7 yards per game, as they consistently apply aggressive pressure for four full quarters. Having an offense and defense that can get it done allow the Sun Devils to find ways to win even when they face tough sledding.
Last week in Salt Lake City, ASU was on the ropes against the Utah Utes trailing 19-7 heading into the fourth quarter. The Utes’ defense had stuffed Arizona State all day long and it appeared like ASU would get tripped up and lose their edge in the division standings. But the defense rose up and shut Utah down late in the game, allowing for the offense to find their footing and score 13 points in the final quarter, before picking off a pair of Travis Wilson passes on back-to-back drives to close out the 20-19 win.
It wasn’t the best showing of the season for the offense but the defense picked up the slack and got the Sun Devils the win. Similarly, when the Wisconsin Badgers were running all over the ASU defense earlier this season, the offense took their game to the next level and out-scored Wisconsin to escape with a huge non-conference win. That balance between offensive and defensive excellence breeds trust among teammates and a confidence that the team will always find a way to get it done.
Can they keep that high level of play going on both sides of the ball the rest of the way and punch their ticket to Pasadena this bowl season?