Inconsistent quarterback play, dropped passes, questionable coaching decisions, poor special teams.
Against the Wisconsin Badgers, the Arizona State Sun Devils were able to overcome their shortcomings en route to a thrilling 21-19 win.
Those shortcomings once again reared their ugly head early and often Saturday in Palo Alto, but against the fifth-ranked team in the land, the Stanford Cardinal, Todd Graham and Co. never had a real chance to get back in the contest.
Kevin Hogan threw for two touchdowns, Tyler Gaffney ran for two more and the reigning Rose Bowl champions opened up Pac-12 play with a 42-28 win over the Sun Devils.
With the loss, ASU is now 0-19 in its last 19 games against top 10 teams.
Little went right for Todd Graham’s squad Saturday afternoon, however ASU did manage to show signs of life at the start of both the third and fourth quarters.
On their first drive of the second half, the Sun Devils went 75 yards on six plays, capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Marion Grice.
Down 39-7 to start the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils found the end zone three times to start the period on Kelly touchdown passes to Chris Coyle, Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice.
In defeat, Strong had another career performance. The JUCO transfer had a team-high 12 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Carl Bradford’s third quarter sack of Hogan was the first registered by an ASU defensive lineman or linebacker in 2013.
Where to begin.
On ASU’s first possession of the game, Kelly threw a pass right into the arms of Stanford defensive end Josh Mauro. The pick led to the first of four Cardinal touchdown drives in the half.
Looking to get points on the board down 13-0 in the second quarter, kicker Zane Gonzalez badly missed on his attempt from 45 yards out.
With the game quickly getting out of hand midway through the second quarter, Matt Haack couldn’t get much on his punt attempt out of the Sun Devils’ end zone. Haack’s 36-yard punt gave Stanford great field position and led to a 30-yard touchdown by running back Ty Montgomery two plays later.
Haack’s next attempt went only 22 yards, but it was his final ‘kick’ of the half that put a bow on ASU’s most forgettable 30 minutes of play in 2013.
Facing a 4th and 24 at his own 12-yard line, Haack’s punt was blocked off the backside of his own teammate, and the freshman was forced to kick the loose ball out of his own end zone for a safety.
In the second half, ASU elected go for it on 4th and 5 from the Stanford 29-yard line instead of trying to cut the deficit to 19. Kelly’s pass to Grice in the flat was dropped, and Stanford drove down the field on its next drive for a field goal of its own.
On the ensuing possession, Todd Graham kept Kelly on the field for another fourth down situation, only this time it was to attempt a pooch punt. Kelly’s kick was blocked, and the Cardinal tacked on an easy seven points on their next play from scrimmage.
WHEN IT WAS OVER
ASU’s rally in the second half — outscored Stanford 28-13 — was admirable, but Saturday’s contest was over after two quarters.
The Cardinal raced out to a 29-point advantage, and although they took their foot of the gas down the stretch, that cushion was more than enough to hold off the Sun Devils at home.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Strong. Even in a losing effort, the ASU wide receiver might have been the best player on the field. In his first career Pac-12 game, Strong proved to be the Sun Devils’ most effective against an aggressive Cardinal secondary. Strong’s 12 catches were the fifth-most all-time in a game by an ASU player.
– ASU’s last win over a top 10 team came against Oregon in Oct. 2002.
– Under David Shaw, Stanford is 10-0 in the month of September.
– Stanford’s last home loss to ASU came in Sept. 2007.
– Coming into Saturday’s game, the Sun Devils had committed just four penalties on the season. Against the Cardinal, they had six for 65 yards.
HE SAID IT
“We just beat the defending Big Ten champion, but we made so many mistakes,” Graham said.
ASU (3-1) comes back home to host the USC Trojans (3-1) on Saturday, September 28 at Sun Devil Stadium. The game is scheduled to kick-off at 7:30 p.m. MST on ESPN2 and can be heard on Arizona Sports 620.