TEMPE, Ariz. — Well, that appeared to be easy.
The 17th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils dominated all three phases of the game in beating the 23rd-ranked Stanford Cardinal 26-10 Saturday night.
It was easily the most complete effort of the season for the Devils and the best win in the Todd Graham coaching era.
“This one meant a lot,” a subdued Graham said after the game. “To go out and dominate a team that has dominated us — it was a great night to be a Sun Devil.”
Let’s just get this out of the way — this is not the same Stanford team that has won the last two Pac-12 championships. They are faced with plenty of offensive challenges, mostly in the running game.
But defensively, David Shaw’s team has been pretty damn impressive all season. In fact, the Cardinal came into the game ranked second in the nation in total defense, allowing just 238 yards per game. They have two shutouts on their ledger and haven’t allowed more than 17 points to any opponent in 2014.
None of that mattered Saturday to an Arizona State team that looks like it has matured by leaps and bounds over the last month.
ASU’s defense was baffled just three weeks ago by UCLA, who put up 580 yards and hung 62 points on the Sun Devil Stadium scoreboard. Less than a month later, the Devils’ D never flinched against a quarterback with two conference championships on his résumé.
The Sun Devils held Kevin Hogan in check all night. The senior completed just 19-of-39 passes for 212 yards. He was sacked twice, including a hellacious hit by blitzing linebacker Lloyd Carrington. Stanford managed only 76 yards on the ground — with 53 of that coming on two runs.
Offensively, ASU didn’t put up gaudy numbers. Mike Bercovici played well, completing 22-of-33 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he played turnover-free football for the second straight game.
There weren’t too many highlight-type plays. ASU didn’t have an offensive play longer than 27 yards on the night. They were held to just 114 yards rushing on 46 carries, but they stuck with the running game.
Even when Stanford drove 63 yards in five plays in just one minute, 19 seconds to pull to within 10 points in the fourth quarter, there was no panic. Zane Gonzalez iced the affair with two field goals in the final 4:07 of the game.
“It’s just a privilege to compete against Coach Shaw and Stanford,” Graham said. “Tonight means an awful lot to me and our team because of who they are. They’ve epitomized character and smart, disciplined, tough football the last two years.
“This one meant a lot.”
It certainly did. ASU is now 5-1 and 3-1 in conference, a half-game behind South-leading USC, who crushed Colorado earlier Sunday.
But a win like this does more than elevate a conference standing or a place on the AP pecking order come Sunday morning. It proves to a team that features a bevy of young players — especially on the defensive side of the ball — that they can do more than hang with a team that physically dominated them twice just a season ago.
The Sun Devils need that affirmation. They’re right in the thick of the Pac-12 South race at the midway point of the season. A win like this in their back pocket will come in handy against a bear of a second-half of the year in which ASU’s opponents currently own a combined 27-12 record.