Through the first six games of this season, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton was looking like a flash in the pan. A terrifying, 6-foot-1, 305-pound one, but a flash in the pan nevertheless.
Things we learned
From Jadeveon Clowney returning to form to Florida State's complete dismantling of Clemson, here are the lessons learned from the college football weekend. More ...
In the first half of the season, Sutton had 2.5 tackles for loss with one sack, which would have been an average day last season, when he racked up 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
There were concerns whether the weight Sutton added in the off-season had sapped his remarkable quickness.
Head coach Todd Graham kept defending Sutton, and that confidence was finally rewarded with a dominant showing against Washington last Saturday, when Sutton had a conference season-high three solo tackles for loss (one sack). The Huskies were held to minus-five rushing yards, with running back Bishop Sankey managing 22 yards on 13 carries, giving Graham a chance to crow Tuesday during the Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
"He's played exceptional all year long, as far as I'm concerned," Graham said. "Maybe the numbers haven't shown as much because we've played different styles of offenses, but he was very, very productive and has been dominant.
"He's the best I've ever been around, and he has been very productive all year," Graham added.
Sutton had three tackles total in losses at Stanford and against Notre Dame at Arlington, Texas, which Graham attributed to playing against "two of the best offensive lines in the country."
But a more active Sutton dominated the UW offensive line with speed and power, helping to keep the Sun Devils in the thick of the Pac-12 South race. Now tied with UCLA in the loss column, ASU looks set to benefit from a schedule that will see the Bruins play the Cardinal and Oregon in consecutive weeks.
The division race is likely to come down to the Sun Devils' Nov. 23 game at UCLA. Sutton didn't play in last season's 45-43 loss because of a knee injury, but the different this time could be the presence of Sutton, whom Graham labeled a "big-time player and leader for our team."
That's the difference between being a flash in the pan and having sustained success on the football field. Sutton has to consistently deliver from here on out to revive his stock in the eyes of NFL evaluators and for ASU to meet its goals.