TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State took a big step by beating Stanford, knocking off the team that had become a nemesis of sorts.
But there’s no time to let up now. In what may be the deepest and most dangerous conference in football, the Sun Devils have plenty more hurdles still to get past if they want to play for the Pac-12 Championship for a second straight season.
“We need to move forward from here,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said.
Beating Stanford was a big step for the 14th-ranked Sun Devils.
Stanford roughed up Arizona State twice last season, including a disheartening win in the desert to prevent the Sun Devils from getting back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997.
Since that loss, the Sun Devils had pointed to the rematch as the one game they really wanted to win.
Yes, there were other games that got a star on the schedule, namely rival Arizona, but beating Stanford was a top priority. And not just because of what the Cardinal did last season, but because Graham has pointed to their program as the standard-bearer for what he wants Arizona State’s to be like.
That’s what made Saturday night’s 26-10 win so sweet. Not only did the Sun Devils finally get past Stanford, they did it by dominating in the way the Cardinal had done to them in the past, controlling the line of scrimmage, making big plays on special teams, shutting down their offense.
“It hurt us last year, losing to them twice. And we didn’t lose to them, we got our tails kicked,” Graham said. “To turn the tables and beat a team like that and dominate them physically the way we did, because of the respect we have for their program, that one meant more to me personally than any win we have had.”
The confidence-boosting win keeps Arizona State (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) right in the thick of the Pac-12 South race.
The defending South champions, the Sun Devils are a half-game behind Southern California, though would hold the tiebreaker advantage after knocking off the Trojans on a Hail Mary. They’re also a half-game ahead of Arizona and Utah in the South, and still have both teams left on their schedule.
Arizona State also has games left against Notre Dame, Oregon State and Washington State.
But before the Sun Devils get to those, they must first get past a difficult road game at Washington on Saturday.
Husky Stadium is one of the toughest road venues in the Pac-12 and the Huskies are having a solid first season under coach Chris Petersen, entering the game 5-2.
Washington is 1-2 in conference, but its losses were to Stanford and Oregon, two of the Pac-12’s strongest teams. The Huskies have one of the nation’s best pass rushes and a big, physical defense in the same vein as Stanford.
“We think it’s a very similar game to last week,” Graham said. “This is a very, very explosive defensive football team. You look at their ability to rush the passer, they’re probably the best we’ve played to this point.”
The good news for the Sun Devils is that quarterback Taylor Kelly could return for Saturday’s game.
The senior returned to practice last week for the first time since suffering a right foot injury on Sept. 13. Graham said Kelly would likely play against Stanford, but decided to hold him out after watching him go through pregame warm-ups.
Graham said he expects Kelly to be ready to start against the Huskies, though he wouldn’t say if he would share duties with Mike Bercovici, who has played well in his place the past three games.
“I look for him to be there and hopefully progress, this being the week he’s back,” Graham said. “But I’ve got confidence in both those guys to do what they need to to win this week.”
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