It was a tale of two halves for Arizona State on Saturday, yet each led to the same end result.
A disaster of a first half for the Sun Devils put them in a 29-0 hole, but a resurgent effort—and some apparent "taking the foot of the gas" decisions by Stanford head coach David Shaw—gave ASU a chance at a stunning comeback in the fourth quarter. However, some missed chances and some mental errors ultimately did in the Sun Devils in a 42-28 loss.
As expected, the game was decided in the trenches, as Stanford's dominance on both sides was far too much for ASU to handle.
ASU's offensive line was unable to hold back the Stanford pass rush, as quarterback Taylor Kelly was under pressure all night. Although he was sacked just three times, the pressure rattled him and forced him into several key mistakes early on. On the ground, the Sun Devils were only able to run for 50 yards and an average of 2.1 yards-per-carry. On the night, Stanford had 10 tackles-for-loss.
On the other side of the ball, ASU's front seven was unable to make any kind of dent in the Stanford offensive line until the second half, when a resilient Kelly was able to find some holes in the Cardinal secondary and make things interesting.
It appeared that ASU would catch a break early on, as Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 51-yard field goal on the game's opening drive, giving the Sun Devils good field position. However, Stanford's pass rush rattled Kelly on the ensuing drive, and he threw a terrible pass under duress to defensive end Josh Mauro, who returned it to the ASU 17-yard line.
Stanford soon converted that into points, with Kevin Hogan connecting with Ty Montgomery for the touchdown. Following a Sun Devil punt, the Cardinal marched easily downfield, led by a 32-yard end around by Kelsey Young for another score. Tyler Gaffney pounded it in from a one yard, but a missed extra point kept it 13-0.
Stanford added two more touchdowns midway through the second quarter, as their offensive line continued to blow the Sun Devil line off the ball and open up large running lanes. They also kept any Sun Devil far away from Hogan, who capped the second scoring drive with a perfectly thrown 30-yard score to Montgomery.
To add insult to what was arguably the worst single half of Sun Devil football in recent memory, Stanford blocked a Sun Devil punt with under 20 seconds left in the half. ASU punter Matt Haack, taking over for the benched Dom Vizzare, had the presence of mind to kick the ball out of the endzone for a safety, limiting the ASU deficit to 29-0.
Yet instead of coming out flat and defeated in the second half, the Sun Devils rallied. At least at first.
After receiving the second half kickoff, they drove down the field 75 yards in six plays to finally find the endzone. Marion Grice, the nation's touchdown leader, notched his seventh of the year, a two-yard run to give ASU hope.
On the next possession, ASU was finally able to pressure Hogan, forcing him into throwing an interception to Robert Nelson. The Sun Devils could not capitalize, however, turning the ball over on downs in quick fashion.
Things got worse late in the quarter.
Kelly, who has pooch punted several times over his career, had an attempt blocked. On the first play following the block, Stanford running back Anthony Wilkerson ran 16 yards untouched to make it a 39-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
It was then that Shaw appeared to call of the dogs, and the Sun Devil offense took advantage.
On the third play of the fourth quarter, Kelly hit tight end Chris Coyle over the middle, and Coyle bounced off of two tacklers on his way to a 45-yard touchdown catch.
Shaw put in backup quarterback Evan Crower, and the Sun Devil defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession. ASU then took the ball 57 yards in just six plays for another touchdown, a 27-yard catch-and-run by Jaelen Strong.
Strong had yet another huge effort, following his late game heroics last week against Wisconsin. He had a career-high 12 catches for 168 yards, including a sensational leaping grab for 34 yards on a 4th and 19 on ASU's next possession. Three plays after his 4th down catch, Grice caught a short pass from Kelly, waited for his blocker, and ran six yards into the endzone.
Suddenly, it was 39-28 with a little over six minutes left.
ASU then opted to attempt an onside kick, which was then recovered by Stanford.
Three big stops by ASU's defense set up a 4th and one, and Stanford opted to go for it. However, ASU had 12 men on the field and was called for an illegal substitution. That penalty effectively ended the comeback bid.
The loss drops ASU to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in Pac-12 play, and they will drop out of the Top 25 poll. They will look to rally next week when they return home to host USC.
Numbers and Notes
- Kelly finished 30-of-55 for 367 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The 55 attempts were a career-high.
- Grice ran for just 50 yards on 17 carries, and caught six passes for 32 yards.
- Running back D.J. Foster did not have a carry, but caught eight passes for 80 yards.
- Several ASU defenders had solid games. Carl Bradford had seven tackles and the team's only sack, and cornerback Osahon Irabor was again solid, notching a tackle-for-loss to up his team-leading total to 3.5. Linebacker Salamo Fiso was excellent in the second half at SAM backer, making four tackles, 1.5 for loss.
- ASU true freshman wide receiver Cameron Smith made his debut, catching one pass for 30 yards.
- Stanford All-American safety Ed Reynolds was ejected in the fourth quarter due to the new targeting rule.
- Thanks to the fourth quarter rally, ASU outgained Stanford 417-391.