PULLMAN, Washington (Ticker) -- After beating on each other during the week, Washington State showed it still had plenty of fight left.
Jason Gesser passed for three touchdowns as the ninth-ranked Cougars won the battle for first place in the Pac-10 Conference with a 44-22 rout of 17th-ranked Arizona State.
Earlier this week, the Cougars were presented with a pair of distractions. Starting linebacker Ira Davis was suspended for getting into a fight and breaking the cheekbone of starting cornerback Jason David while kickoff specialist Adam Holiday was suspended for violating team rules.
But the Cougars, who have won only one conference title (1997) in their history, maintained their focus on the field, building a 27-6 lead in the first half.
"I think it is just a credit to our team and the maturity of our team," Cougars coach Mike Price said. "The kids did a real good job. We hit it head-on, told them what happened, told them what were going to do. I think they are disciplined. We will be fine.
"I was distracted at the beginning of the week. When things like this happen, they bleed and go on and on. I spent a lot of energy and time correcting it."
Gesser led the way in the half, throwing touchdown passes of 33 and 39 yards to Jerome Riley while connecting with Troy Bienemann from one yard.
Gesser completed 18-of-32 passes for 250 yards and two interceptions. Early in the fourth quarter, Gesser became the school's all-time leader in passing yards (7,823) surpassing Jack Thompson, who set the mark from 1975-78.
"I wasn't thinking about it," Gesser said. "I really had no idea how close I was. After the first touchdown I came over to the sideline and somebody said something to me, and I was like, `Oh yeah, that's right.'"
With the victory, the Cougars (8-1, 5-0 Pac-10) gained the inside track for the Rose Bowl, moving one game in front of both Arizona State (7-3, 4-1) and Southern California (6-2, 4-1) in the conference standings.
Washington State has reeled off six straight wins since suffering its only loss of the season, a 25-7 defeat at Ohio State.
Two weeks after a surprising win at conference power and nationally ranked Oregon, the Sun Devils were their own worst enemy in this one, committing three turnovers in the first half and four overall.
"We've been a slow starter," Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said. "If you back to those three drives, we're in the game. We've been able to overcome a lot of stuff (this year), but it's not good, obviously, when you fumble two of your first three running plays in the game. That makes it difficult. The plays were there to be made today, and today we didn't make them."
Andrew Walter had two of the miscues with two interceptions. He completed 31-of-51 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cougars were in control from the outset, striking on their first offensive play when Gesser found Riley down the middle for a 39-yard touchdown.
Arizona State lost a fumble on its first play after Gesser's TD pass, but the Cougars could not convert.
But the Cougars did find the end zone on their next possession, with Gesser finding Binemann in the right flat for a one-yard touchdown.
Drew Dunning kicked a 31-yard field goal with 5 1/2 minutes left in the opening quarter, making it 17-0.
The Sun Devils lost fumbles on two of their first four possessions.
Mike Barth kicked a 36-yard field goal with under a minute remaining in the first quarter to get the Sun Devils on the board, but they squandered a chance to draw closer early in the second.
On 4th-and-1 from the Cougars 4, the Sun Devils failed to convert when Walter threw incomplete into the end zone.
That gave the Cougars momentum and they took advantage. Dunning booted a 47-yard field goal with 3:03 left in the half and Gesser fired a 39-yard TD pass to Riley with 25 seconds remaining in the half for a 27-6 cushion.
Riley had eight receptions for 137 yards.
The rout continued in the third quarter and Dunning converted a 23-yard field goal and Jermaine Green ran 13 yards for a score around a safety for Arizona State.
Green scored a 10-yard run in the fourth, giving the Cougars their biggest lead of the contest at 44-15.