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Originally published October 9, 2011 at 8:02 PM | Page modified October 9, 2011 at 9:09 PM

Arizona State having a lot more fun than its in-state rival

The Sun Devils keep losing players and winning games. They're 5-1 now, going to Oregon Saturday night, and its solid first half has to take the heat off coach Dennis Erickson.

Seattle Times college football reporter

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Some teams have hit the halfway pole in the Pac-12 football race, and this much we know: Stanford is very good. Oregon is very good (and hurt). Washington looks like one of the surprise teams. And Arizona is, well, Arizona is about to begin basketball practice.

What We Learned

• Arizona State has coped nicely with its injuries. The Sun Devils keep losing players and winning games. They're 5-1 now, going to Oregon Saturday night, and its solid first half has to take the heat off coach Dennis Erickson.

True, all ASU had to do was keep in check Utah's Jon Hays, the quarterback who was once ticketed to play at Nebraska-Omaha. But the Sun Devils won impressively, 35-14, and their defense, the unit riddled by prolonged injuries to cornerback Omar Bolden, linebacker Brandon Magee and end Junior Onyeali, now has 10 interceptions, eight by defensive backs.

"Yeah, I'm big-time surprised," coordinator Craig Bray told the Arizona Republic. "We may look pretty ugly at times, but we come up with turnovers. I don't have the answer. It's amazing."

• Utah is a mistake waiting to happen. Ten days ago, the Utes sat atop the Pac-12 turnover-margin totals with a plus-nine number, far better than anybody else in the league. Two games against Washington and ASU — 10 turnovers, one takeaway — have canceled that advantage.

"We'll start winning games when we stop turning the ball over," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

• Washington State is just improved enough to have its heart broken. The Cougars did everything but close out UCLA on Saturday night. Last week, defensive coordinator Chris Ball, noting the Bruins' physical talent, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review, "We're definitely not going to win the warmups."

It has to encourage the Cougars (3-2) that they played UCLA to the nub. It has to kill them that they didn't win.

• Arizona (1-5) is pretty much a mess. Up in Salt Lake City, Whittingham lamented after the Utah loss, "It seems like we've lost 10 (in a row)." No, that would be Arizona, which, indeed, has lost 10 straight to FBS opponents. It hasn't even had a lead since the opener against Northern Arizona.

Star-crossed placekicker Alex Zendejas missed his 12th career PAT in the Oregon State loss, and coach Mike Stoops admitted to a bad play call on a third-down run near the goal-line with Arizona down 10, but charging, in the final moments.

"It was the wrong call, it had no chance for success, and it's my fault," said Stoops. "That was a coach's error."

• Reality has settled in for Colorado. The Buffs (1-5) are having about as much success in their new league as Utah, but their growing pains were expected. Last week, coach Jon Embree suspended five players for a prolonged period, and then CU lost to Stanford, 48-7.

"I expected more," Embree told the Denver Post. "I understand the circumstances. That doesn't mean I have to accept them."

Now the Buffs have lost their top receiver, Paul Richardson, to a knee strain, which means he's out for Saturday's game at Washington.

This Week

The appetizer to Saturday night's ASU-Oregon matchup is another Thursday-night ESPN game featuring Cal and USC. The Bears have a shot, unless quarterback Zach Maynard plays like he did against Oregon.

Elsewhere, the Huskies host Colorado and WSU finally gets home for Stanford.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com




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