TEMPE, Ariz. — TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State's win over Wisconsin was downgraded because it was close and had a controversial finish. The lopsided win over Southern California was knocked because the Trojans were struggling and swirling in turmoil.
Combined with losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, the Sun Devils were still looking for a signature win to show they belong on the big stage.
That changed Saturday night.
Dominating both sides of the ball, Arizona State overwhelmed No. 20 Washington in a 53-24 victory at Sun Devil Stadium, giving the Sun Devils the kind of statement victory that had been so elusive in two seasons under coach Todd Graham.
"Might be the most impressive performance as we've had as a team since I've been here," Graham said.
It would be hard to argue against.
Arizona State faced a potential statement game last year against No. 3 Oregon and fell flat, then followed with losses to Oregon State and USC, both ranked at the time.
The Sun Devils managed to knock off Arizona when it was ranked in their regular-season finale, but the unpredictability of a rivalry game doesn't give it the same kind of luster as knocking off another ranked team or power program might.
Arizona State had a few chances to make a statement this season.
The first came against Wisconsin, which was ranked No. 20, in the second game of the season. The Sun Devils ended up winning 32-30, but the Badgers didn't get a chance to kick a potential game-winning field goal because of a mix-up by the officials.
Arizona State got off to a miserable start in a loss to No. 5 Stanford the next week and followed that by matching the most points ever scored against USC in a 62-41 win. The Trojans already were in disarray before the game and coach Lane Kiffin was fired in the hours after it, so the Sun Devils didn't get as much credit as they might have for beating USC as they would have had it been, say, three years earlier.
Another chance to shine in the national spotlight went dim on Oct. 5, when Arizona State came up just short in a loss to Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas.
The victory over Washington could change perceptions.
Coming off a rout over Colorado, the Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) ran over Washington, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to go into their bye week with perhaps the biggest head of steam they've had in two seasons under Graham.
"We dominated a really good football team," Graham said.
They did and that's part of what made the victory so impressive.
Washington had lost its previous two games, but was still ranked because those games were against Oregon and Stanford, both top-5 teams at the time.
After a good opening drive, the Huskies never stood a chance against the charged-up Sun Devils.
Washington running back Bishop Sankey came into the game as the nation's leading rusher at 150 yards a game, but Arizona State gave him no daylight, limiting him to 22 yards on 13 carries.
The Sun Devils held the Huskies to minus-5 yards on 25 carries — matching the second-fewest ASU has allowed since 1996 — and had 12 tackles for loss, including seven sacks. Washington had the nation's eighth-best offense through the first four games, but finished with 212 total yards — 314 below its average.
Arizona State's offense was impressive.
Behind quarterback Taylor Kelly and touchdown-maker Marion Grice, the Sun Devils raced past Washington, scoring the most points they had ever scored against the Huskies. Kelly accounted for four touchdowns and Grice, the nation's leading scorer, added three more in the look-at-us-now rout.
"It was a really good week of preparation for us," Arizona State defensive end Gannon Conway said. "We came out and really did what we were supposed to do."
The victory, combined with UCLA's loss to Stanford, puts Arizona State in control of the Pac-12 South, a half-game ahead of the Bruins.
The next task for the Sun Devils will be to see if they can build on the prosperity.