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PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday was pretty sure why his team lost 55-21 to No. 25 Arizona State on Thursday night.
"We didn't block very well," Halliday said. "We didn't throw the ball very well. We didn't catch very well, and we didn't run very well.
"Plays were there to be made and we didn't make them."
Coach Mike Leach thinks the problems begin in his players' heads.
"We need to focus on the next play," he said.
Leach believes too many players are overthinking game situations, trying to anticipate all contingencies, rather than focusing on their assignments.
"It's too tempting to clutter our minds with other stuff," Leach said, and that can slow reaction time.
While the win qualified Arizona State for a bowl, coach Todd Graham has much bigger plans.
"I want to win the championship," Graham said. "It's one more down and five more to go to be Pac-12 champs."
Taylor Kelly tossed five touchdown passes and ran for two more scores for the Sun Devils. The redshirt junior threw for 275 yards and rushed for 66 to help ASU (6-2, 4-1) win its first road game of the season after two losses.
"Taylor is like having an offensive coordinator on the field," Graham said. "He does a tremendous job of audibling and dispersing the ball."
The Sun Devils jumped out to a 42-14 lead in the first half and never let the Cougars back in the game. Arizona State produced 557 yards of total offense and extended its lead in the Pac-12 South to 1½ games.
"Everything for us was to come out and start fast and kind of get the crowd out of the way," Kelly said.
Halliday had 300 yards passing for Washington State (4-5, 2-4), which has lost four of five. Halliday, who set an FBS record in his previous game with 89 pass attempts in a loss to No. 2 Oregon, was 29 of 54 with two touchdowns.
Marion Grice ran for 94 yards as ASU scored at least 50 points for the fifth time this season. Kelly completed 22 of 31 passes and was intercepted once.
"He is leading this team," Graham said.
Arizona State scored three times in the first quarter, thanks in part to great field position, and three more times in the second to build a lead the Cougars could not overcome.
"We tried to make too much happen," Leach said. "We focused too much on our opponent rather than on doing our job.
"We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds," he added, including dropped balls.
But Leach had praise for Halliday.
"This is one of the best games he's played," the coach said. "He didn't have a lot of time to throw."
Kelly marched the Sun Devils 67 yards on their first possession, scoring on a bootleg from 7 yards out.
Washington State went three-and-out on its first three possessions. After the Sun Devils took over on the Cougars 36 following a short punt, Grice ran the ball five times to get down to the 6. Kelly bootlegged into the end zone for a second time to give ASU a 14-0 lead.
Washington State's Gabe Marks fumbled after an 18-yard reception, and Robert Nelson recovered to give Arizona State the ball on the WSU 39. Kelly fired an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong all alone in the end zone for a 21-0 cushion with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
Marks redeemed himself on the first play of the second, taking a short pass from Halliday and weaving through the ASU defense for a 34-yard touchdown.
Arizona State's Deantre Lewis fumbled on the next series, and WSU's Ioane Gauta recovered. But the Cougars had to punt and Kelly moved the Sun Devils 62 yards, finishing with a 7-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Foster for a 28-7 lead.
After another three-and-out for WSU, Kelly fired a 51-yard touchdown pass to Richard Smith on the next play from scrimmage.
The Cougars turned the ball over on downs, and five plays later Kelly hit Chris Coyle with an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-7 with 1:40 left in the first half. Grice's 32-yard reception was the big play on the drive.
Washington State replied with its best drive. The Cougars marched 75 yards and Rickey Galvin caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to cut ASU's advantage to 42-14 at halftime.
Washington State scored first in the second half, on a 4-yard run by Jeremiah Laufasa to make it 42-21. The Sun Devils replied with Kelly's 23-yard touchdown pass to Foster.
Zane Gonzalez added a pair of field goals for Arizona State in the fourth.
The Sun Devils lead the series 25-13-2, having won nine of the past 10 games.
Both teams were coming off bye weeks.