TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Washington State’s players said all week they wouldn’t let star receiver Marquess Wilson’s acrimonious split from the team distract them.
Even if the Cougars were fully focused, it might not have mattered against an Arizona State team on a mission to become bowl eligible in its seniors’ final game.
Arizona State dominated Washington State’s usually-prolific offense and its quarterbacks combined for six touchdowns, helping the Sun Devils roll over the Cougars, 46-7, Saturday to become bowl eligible in their fifth attempt.
“We didn’t execute well,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “We ran around hard, but we didn’t execute well. As the flood gates opened, we didn’t become less frantic and stay within our technique. We tried to make too much happen, which happens in situations like that.”
It was a disappointing finish to a tumultuous week for Washington State (2-9, 0-8 Pac-12).
It started with Wilson quitting the team and accusing the coaches of physical, emotion and verbal abuse.
Leach, who was also accused of abuse when he was fired by Texas Tech, denied the allegation and his players were intent on not letting it become a distraction.
It didn’t work.
Washington State’s defense was on its heels from the start, backed up on Arizona State’s opening drive after a botched punt, and allowed the Sun Devils to pile up 561 total yards.
Quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halladay each threw interceptions in the first half as the Cougars fell behind 32-0. Washington State threw for 240 yards — 137 below its Pac-12-best average — and the running game provided no support, gaining 1 yard on 19 carries.
“I don’t know what happened, but there was a huge change in possession that gave the defense short field early in the game and I feel like that kind of had the sideline’s moral go down,” Washington State safety Deone Bucannon said. “As a team, and the great teams do it, especially defensively, that needs to bounce off your chest.”
It had been a frustrating run for the Sun Devils after opening their first season under coach Todd Graham with five wins in six games.
One win from becoming bowl eligible, they bogged down against the Pac-12’s best teams, losing four straight.
Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) left no doubt that it would clinch in its final home game by overwhelming the Cougars from the start.
Taylor Kelly threw for four touchdowns and Michael Eubank had one each on the ground and through the air. Tight end Chris Coyle caught two touchdown passes in a dominating first half and Rashad Ross also had two scoring catches.
This was just what the Sun Devils wanted before heading to Tucson next week to face rival Arizona.
Kelly had struggled as teams closed in on the Sun Devils’ running game, throwing seven interceptions during the four-game losing streak.
The sophomore overthrew a couple of receivers early against Washington State, but was at his just-make-it-happen best on Arizona State’s second drive, flipping a short pass that Ross turned into a 15-yard touchdown.
Kelly used a hard pump fake to get Washington State’s defense to come in on the next drive, leaving Coyle wide open for an 18-yard touchdown catch. Kelly added a 17-yard TD pass in the second quarter, though Marion Grice did most of the work, racing through what seemed like Washington State’s entire defense on his way to the end zone to put the Sun Devils up 25-0.
Eubank got in on the action next, following an interception by Keelan Johnson with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Coyle in the second quarter, then opened the third by scoring on a 1-yard dive.
Kelly added another score late in the third quarter, scrambling long enough to find Ross for a 31-yard touchdown that put Arizona State up 46-0.
Kelly threw for 246 yards on 20 of 23 passing, while Eubank was 7 for 9 for 55 yards.
Kelly completed his final 18 passes, setting a school single-game mark for most consecutive completions, topping the mark of 13 set by Dick Mackey vs. S.D. Navy in 1952.
“It’s pretty phenomenal how he’s played as a first-year quarterback,” Graham said of Kelly.
The rest of the Sun Devils weren’t bad, either, giving them a chance to finally become bowl eligible.