TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State coach Todd Graham has pointed to Stanford as a model of what the Sun Devils should aspire to as a program: The character, the discipline, the efficiency and, certainly, the winning.
But each time the teams met on the field, Arizona State fell flat, overrun by the powerful Cardinal.
That’s what made this one so sweet. Not only did the Sun Devils finally beat Stanford, they won in Stanford-like fashion.
Dominating on both sides of the ball, the 17th-ranked Sun Devils cleared a big hurdle by racing past No. 23 Stanford 26-10 Saturday night.
“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,” Graham said.
The Cardinal had become a nemesis of sorts for Arizona State, powering past the Sun Devils in two games last season, including a dominating win in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Arizona State (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) reversed the field against Stanford in the desert rematch with an efficient performance on both sides of the ball.
The Sun Devils scored the most points allowed by the nation’s top-rated defense behind a nice mix of run and pass.
Mike Bercovici, in his third straight start replacing injured Taylor Kelly, was efficient, throwing for 242 yards and touchdown on 23-of-33 passing. Zane Gonzalez made sure the Sun Devils came away with points when drives stalled, hitting four second-half field goals.
The defense, which had been overpowered by the big-up-front Cardinal in the past, refused to get pushed around, corralling Stanford’s run game while pressuring quarterback Kevin Hogan most of the night.
“We came out tonight with a chip on our shoulder and got the job done,” Arizona State cornerback Lloyd Carrington said.
Stanford (4-3, 2-2) did not, putting a big dent in its chances of playing for a third straight Pac-12 title.
The Cardinal have struggled offensively most of the season and hit a new low in the first half, shut out in the opening 30 minutes for the first time in 87 games while managing 288 total yards against a defense that has struggled.
Stanford’s defense, its calling card, had a hard time keeping up with the fleet-of-foot Sun Devils and nearly tripled its nation-leading average of 10 points allowed per game on defense.
“Bottom line we did not play well anywhere, not up to our standard,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Arizona State, like so many other teams, had trouble matching up with Stanford’s size and physicality in the two games last season, including a disheartening 38-14 home loss in the conference title game.
The Sun Devils figured to have their hands full again with nine new defensive starters in a unit that gives up 31.2 points — 62 in a home loss to UCLA — and 452.6 yards per game.
Instead, Arizona State dominated Stanford’s offense from the start, holding the Cardinal to 69 total yards, including five rushing on 11 carries.
Stanford had one sustained drive in the first half, reaching ASU’s 35, but was forced to punt when cornerback Carrington raced in from the edge and sacked Hogan for 10-yard loss.
The Cardinal didn’t threaten again and were held scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2007 against Washington State.
“We’ve been building up each week just getting better and better each week,” Arizona State safety Damarious Randall said. “We just all put it together this week.”
Arizona State’s offense started off by trying to establish the run early, handing it off on 17 of the first 24 plays.
That set up the pass and Arizona State sprinkled it in during a Stanford-esque drive that went 81 yards in 14 plays capped by D.J. Foster’s 1-yard dive.
Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, who has given Arizona State trouble in the past, instead gave the Sun Devils a gift late in the second quarter, when he tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch on a punt and muffed it.
Arizona State recovered at Stanford’s 12 and Bercovici found Jaelen Strong four plays later on a 3-yard touchdown pass that put the Sun Devils up 14-0.
“Where we were, Ty wants to go back and get his hands on the ball because he knows he can make a play for us,” Shaw said. “Just an error in judgment.”
Stanford finally found a spark on offense early in the third quarter with an ASU-like drive, moving 63 yards in five plays for Patrick Skov’s 1-yard touchdown run that cut it to 20-10.
The Cardinal would get no closer.
Gonzalez kicked a 25-yard field goal and sealed the win with another from 31 yards after Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
“To beat Stanford, the only one we couldn’t beat . I’m really proud of our guys,” Graham said.
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