After watching Northwestern’s defense get gashed in wins over two Mid-American Conference opponents, Arizona State’s offensive playmakers were no doubt salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. Then they chowed down on Saturday.
The 18th-ranked Sun Devils amassed 773 total yards of offense to post the most productive day in program history in whipping the Wildcats 52-21 before 55,029 fans Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
Not a bad tonic to wash away the aftertaste of a last-minute loss to Louisiana State and prepare the Sun Devils (2-1) for the start of Pac-10 play on Saturday. ASU travels to face Oregon State in both teams’ conference openers and ASU’s first game away from Sun Devil Stadium.
"We have a nice offense," ASU coach Dirk Koetter said. "Yards are just numbers on a page. . . . The scoreboard is definitely what you’re looking for."
Northwestern (2-1) surrendered 778 yards in wins over Ohio and Northern Illinois the last two weeks. The role of "opposing offense" was filled to perfection by the Sun Devils Saturday.
By the time Moey Mutz hauled in a 38-yard pass from Sam Keller with five minutes left in the second quarter, the Sun Devils had already piled up over 500 yards of total offense and a 17-point lead.
It was the re-emergence of the running game that surprised.
The Sun Devils rolled up 300 rushing yards against Temple, but that total looked like an aberration when ASU was limited to 99 yards on the ground by LSU’s stingy front.
ASU’s runners took advantage of Northwestern’s porous defense by carving it up to the tune of 290 yards on 45 carries.
The charge was led by true freshman Keegan Herring, who shrugged off a first-quarter fumble to rush for 197 yards and two scores on 23 carries. His 2-yard scoring run late in the first quarter knotted the game at seven and his five-yard run in the second period stretched ASU’s lead to 17 points.
He narrowly missed out on becoming the Sun Devils’ first 200-yard rusher since Delvon Flowers in 2001.
"That means they have faith in me," Herring said of being kept in the game despite fumbling twice. "Usually, if you fumble two or three times in a game, especially as a freshman, you get sat down."
ASU didn’t turn to the running game until it fell behind by a touchdown early as Keller dropped back to pass on seven of the Sun Devils’ first 10 plays.
But when Northwestern scored on its second possession, ASU went to the ground. Nine of its next 10 plays and 20 of its final 35 first-half calls were runs as ASU built up a 38-14 halftime edge.
The Sun Devils scored on six straight first-half possessions.
"We’re going to throw the ball. That’s no secret," Keller said. "But to be able to run the ball . . . the whole offensive playbook opens up."
Though it was ASU’s running backs that took control of the game, Keller was far from grounded.
The junior was the efficient passer that ASU fans have already grown to expect, connecting on 20-of-31 passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns before heading to the bench.
Tight end Jamaal Lewis caught his fourth touchdown of the season on just his sixth catch to give ASU its first lead.
Running back Rudy Burgess and receiver Derek Hagan also caught Keller touchdown throws in the first half before Matt Miller’s 30-yard touchdown reception on a fourthdown play late in the third quarter pushed the lead to 31 points and brought the second string onto the field.
Keller implied that he wasn’t 100 percent happy with the outing.
"If we don’t (make mistakes) we probably have 900 yards," Keller said. "It was a lot of fun out there."
Yards, yards and more yards
ASU racked up a single-game total yardage record of 773 against Northwestern on Saturday. Below shows the top five yardage totals in Arizona State history:
Yards Opponent Year
773 vs. Northwestern 2005
743 vs. Stanford 1981
718 vs. Missouri 1972
701 vs. Arizona 1973
696 vs. Hardin-Simmons 1955