ASU dominates No. 23 Stanford in 26-10 win

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Over the last two weeks, Arizona State has talked about "taking the crown" from Stanford. The Sun Devils fell to the Cardinal twice in 2013, including a crushing loss in the Pac-12 championship game.

"After losing to them twice last year, I told the guys we are not going to let them do that to us again," said ASU head coach Todd Graham.

He was true to his word on Saturday night.

The 17th-ranked Sun Devils finally accomplished their goal, dominating No. 23 Stanford in every aspect of the game in a 26-10 victory.

"We had a salty taste in our mouth when we walked down the tunnel. It had been lingered since last September," said ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici. "The crown is ours now."

ASU improves to 5-1 on the year, and remains in control of their own destiny as they aim to repeat as Pac-12 South champions.

The Cardinal came into the match-up ranked as the nation's No. 1 defense, but it was ASU that proved to be the better unit, holding Stanford to just 288 yards and forcing two key turnovers.

"People came here tonight talking about their defense," said Graham. "They left here talking about ours."

ASU held Stanford to just 76 yards rushing, which was just the second time over the Cardinal's last 31 games that they were held under 100 yards. That success was keyed by a revamped defensive front.

"The difference on defense was that we went with a more mature lineup and had a limited role with our younger players," said Graham. "We wanted to be bigger and more physical so we made some great changes and our guys executed on the plays." 

"With our new big guys up there, Mo (Latu), (Demetrius) Cherry, Marcus (Hardison), Jaxon (Hood), they actually filled up a lot of gaps today," said ASU safety Damarious Randall on the run defense.

After being battered by Stanford a year ago, Graham's Sun Devils took it to the Cardinal.

"My mom always tells me to blitz if I am not sure what to call. So we blitz a lot," said Graham.

Bercovici, making his third straight start in place of injured Taylor Kelly, threw for 245 yards and a touchdown. He directed the Sun Devils to 356 yards on a Stanford defense that had surrendered an average of only 238 yards per game so far this year.

"We were very simple with what we decided to do as far as attacking Stanford’s defense," said Bercovici. "We knew what we had to do. We trusted the schemes and executed."

The Sun Devils took control early, yet failed to capitalize on their efforts. ASU managed to drive inside the Stanford 40-yard line on their first two possessions, but came away empty each time, including a 48-yard missed field goal by Zane Gonzalez. However, the Sun Devil defense remained tough, holding Stanford to just 25 yards in the scoreless first quarter.

Bercovici and the Sun Devils finally got rolling on their first drive of the second quarter. ASU marched 81 yards in 13 plays, including an acrobatic 15-yard reception by Jaelen Strong on third and 12, and capped the drive with a one-yard D.J. Foster touchdown run.

“We knew that when you play a team like that you cannot beat yourself," said Bercovici of the Stanford defense. "They sure aren’t going to hurt themselves, like I said they are a disciplined smart team. Basically we just focused on ourselves, got that run game going. The front five were moving the pile, helping the run game. Once the run game gets going we are extremely effective.”

After rushing for just 31 yards two weeks ago against USC, the Sun Devils had 114 on Saturday night. While they were held to just 2.5 yards per carry on the night, ASU's commitment to the run helped keep Stanford's defense on their heels.

"We gave up too many yards on the ground, and when you give up yards on the ground and teams get to second and medium, it becomes a little bit easier for them to call plays," said Stanford head coach David Shaw.

Special teams blunders played a major role in ASU's two defeats to Stanford last year. On Saturday night, that script was flipped.

"We spent a lot of hours on it," said Graham of special teams. "We worked on it and our guys executed it. They did a great job tonight with making adjustments."

Late in the first half, ASU punter Matt Haack unleashed a booming 54-yard punt that forced dangerous return man Ty Montgomery to retreat and attempt a catch on the move. He muffed the ball, and Randall recovered it at Stanford's 12-yard line.

"I saw him going back. I saw that it was a deep, deep punt," said Randall. "I was going to make the tackle. I saw that he had muffed it, so I ended up pushing him out of the way and ended up getting the turnover.”

Four plays later, Bercovici found Strong for a three-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead that ASU took into halftime.

The team's traded field goals in the third quarter, as the ASU defense continued to stifle the Cardinal offense.

"We just wanted to give the offense different looks coming from the east side," said ASU cornerback Lloyd Carrington. "Coach made great calls that put us in the right position to make plays."

ASU appeared to be on the brink of breaking the game wide open early in the fourth quarter, when the had a first and 10 at the Cardinal 15-yard line. However, three straight negative plays pushed them back 15 yards, and they had to settle for a 47-yard field goal by Gonzalez.

With the clock ticking away, Stanford responded with their best drive of the game. Keyed by a 31-yard Kevin Hogan run, the Cardinal moved 63 yards in just over one minute of game clock, and found the endzone with a one-yard Patrick Skov touchdown run.

ASU's offense was unable to generate any points on the ensuing drive, but the Sun Devil defense continued to stand tall and pick up their teammates.

“We’ve been building up each week just getting better and better each week," said Randall. "We just all put it together this week.” 

In a defining moment for the young and evolving ASU defense, the Sun Devils forced Stanford into a three-and-out on that possession and a punt.

"I really just think we came out playing our game," said Carrington. "We're an attacking-style defense. For a couple of weeks, we tried to make different adjustments for certain teams, but Coach Graham put his foot forward and said, 'Be us. We're going to play our style of defense and attack Stanford no matter what they run.' He just had the confidence in us to make plays."

When ASU got the ball back, they drove inside the Stanford 10-yard line. However, the drive fizzled out after Bercovici had a rare misfire on a pass to Strong.

"I am going to be up at night thinking about a couple of plays," said Bercovici. "I owe Jaelen dinner for missing him on that dig late in the game."

They did manage to extend their lead to 23-10 on a 25-yard  Gonzalez field goal with just over four minutes left in the game. It was then time for another big special teams play.

On the ensuing kickoff, Stanford's Christian McCaffery fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by ASU's Ezekiel Bishop at the 22-yard line. 

Foster ran three times, forcing Stanford to use their timeouts, and another chip shot Gonzalez field goal effectively ended the game.

After being dominated by Stanford in Sun Devil Stadium during the conference championship game just 10 months ago, this year's Arizona State team proved that they learned from those painful lessons.

"I feel like our players have just matured," said Graham. "I was really confident coming into this game. They have been the best football team that we have played so far. Stanford was the only team we couldn't beat. I am proud of our guys. They grew up and are leaving this game 5-1."

ASU will head on the road to Seattle for another tough Pac-12 game when they face Washington on Oct. 25.