TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's no two ways about it: Arizona State's loss to Stanford on Saturday was a disaster for the program.
The Sun Devils were outplayed in all facets of the game, made several key mistakes, and showed on national television that they were a ways away from reaching the elite level on which the fifth-ranked Cardinal reside. The loss dropped ASU to 2-1 on the year, and more importantly, to 0-1 in Pac-12 play.
For as discouraging as the night was for the Sun Devils, there were several legitimate positives that ASU can look upon. No, really, there were.
Let's take a look at some of the things that should make ASU fans happy heading into this week's game against USC.
Jaelen Strong: True No. 1
Coming to Tempe after a terrific junior college season, Strong was seen as something of a savior for the Sun Devil passing game. Such hype could overwhelm a player seeing his first action in major college football, but that has not been the case. Not at all.
He caught six passes, including a touchdown, in the season opener, and then followed that up with 104 yards in a sterling effort last week against Wisconsin. But he took it to a new level on Saturday.
Facing one of the truly elite defenses in the nation, Strong was nothing short of sensational. He made clutch catch after clutch catch. Strong scored his second touchdown on the year on a 27-yard slant route, then later made a leaping grab over two Cardinal defensive backs for a 34-yard gain on a 4th and 18 later in the fourth quarter.
Through three games, he has 24 receptions for 330 yards, and has single-handedly made the position relevant in the ASU offense. While his fellow Sun Devil wide receivers continue to drop passes, Strong is emerging as one of the Pac-12's best.
ASU has seen its share of tough games and blowout losses over the last several years, and they had were in the midst of one on Saturday. Heading into the fourth quarter, they trailed 39-7, and their chances of getting a win were non-existent.
Most teams in that situation would pull the starters, give the reserves some reps, and get out of town looking to rebound for next week. Not this team. Not Todd Graham's Sun Devils.
ASU continued to fight and give it their all on every down, something not often seen in Tempe during the Dennis Erickson years. While the results weren't perfect, they managed to scratch, claw, and punch their way to three touchdowns in the quarter to garner some measure of respectability and momentum heading into next Saturday's South division showdown with USC.
The Sun Devils are not going to win every game, but they sure appear to be giving 100 percent no matter the situation.
Salamo at SAM
Steffon Martin came to ASU as a highly-touted junior college transfer and soon captured the starting job at SAM linebacker. However, he was underwhelming last year, and was pushed during fall camp by a few players, most notably redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso.
Martin has started all three games of this season, but he may not see a fourth. He made just one assisted tackle during his time in the game, and was replaced by Fiso late in the game. Fiso then made his presence felt, shooting gaps and making several impressive plays. He finished with four tackles, including a team-high 1.5 for loss.
Outside of Chris Young, the ASU linebacker corps has been in flux, but the continued play of Fiso, who Graham has repeatedly called "a starter" in his eyes, may help lock down one of those other spots.
The CBE finally begins
The stellar play of Will Sutton and Carl Bradford last season set the bar for 2013 astronomically high. Through two games, both players have been noticeably quirt, although Bradford hinted at a revival last week with a couple of key plays against Wisconsin.
The Bradford ASU fans have come to love returned against Stanford, as he was the team's standout on defense.
Showing a relentless motor and the freakish athleticism that have become his calling cards, Bradford flew all over the field. He posted seven tackles (a team-best six solo), and made the team's only sack of the night, along with two other quarterback pressures on a night in which Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was all too comfortable.
ASU can only hope that this game will serve as the spark to reignite Bradford. He has the potential to be one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players, and the Sun Devils will need his playmaking ways with USC and Notre Dame upcoming.
The stats were not great.
Seventeen carries for just 50 yards, and six catches (plus one key drop) for 32 yards. But running back Marion Grice did something that no other player in the nation is doing as much as he has so far: score touchdowns.
With the blocking in front of him essentially absent, Grice still managed to find the endzone for the seventh and eighth times on the year, once on the ground and once on a reception.
Regardless of the situation in the game or the blocking in front of him, Grice continues to run hard and relentlessly on every touch. As a result, he will soon threaten some long-standing scoring marks in the ASU record books.