ASU saw a major comeback ahead in the second half. It finally found its rhythm and had the momentum offensively to pull it off.
But the hole in the first half the Sun Devils dug themselves into was just too great.
After trailing 29-0 in the half, No. 23 ASU (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) fell to No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) 42-28 Saturday night, giving the Sun Devils a loss on their first road game of the season.
ASU coach Todd Graham took the entire blame for the loss after the game.
“I apologized to (our players) on how we got our team ready to play. We were obviously not ready to play today,” he said. “Give Stanford all the credit in the world. Obviously, you can tell they’re a championship team and we didn’t have our team ready.”
It looked like ASU would challenge Stanford right away after the Cardinal came up empty in its first drive of the game with a missed field goal, then things quickly started getting weird.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly’s pass got deflected on a third-and-nine and ended up being intercepted by redshirt senior defensive tackle Josh Mauro.
The Cardinal then followed it up with a 17-yard touchdown reception from junior receiver Ty Montgomery. Stanford forced ASU to punt, then quickly scored with a one-yard touchdown run from senior running back Tyler Gaffney.
ASU had a chance to put points on the board with a field goal in the second quarter, but the wind interfered with freshman Zane Gonzalez’s 45-yard try, pushing it wide-right of the goal post. The Cardinal continued to extend its lead with a 12-yard touchdown run from senior running back Anthony Wilkerson and another touchdown reception from Montgomery for 30 yards.
Things got even worse for the Sun Devils when freshman punter Matt Haack’s punt bounced off redshirt senior defensive end Davon Coleman’s back in the endzone, forcing Haack to kick the live ball away for a safety.
Stanford had a 29-0 advantage, the first time ASU was shut out in the first half since Dec. 22, 2011 against Boise State in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas.
A physical Stanford offensive line was clearly bothering the Sun Devils. ASU recorded just seven rushing yards in the first half.
“We just had to get first downs,” Kelly said. “That was the big thing. We just couldn’t get things moving.”
ASU responded with a better mentality to open the second half. The Sun Devils moved the ball up on a six-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with senior running back Marion Grice’s two-yard touchdown run from the Wildcat formation.
Redshirt defensive back Robert Nelson, Jr. intercepted Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan’s pass deep in the secondary on Stanford’s first drive in the second half. ASU moved the ball to Stanford’s 29 but couldn’t capitalize when Grice dropped a pass on fourth down.
On the Cardinal’s next drive, Stanford moved the ball up 68 yards in 6:50 and nearly gave up another turnover, but the officials overturned a Gaffney fumble when replays showed his knee was down before he coughed up the ball. The Cardinal converted a 20-yard field goal to extend the lead to 32-7.
Stanford stopped ASU on the ensuing drive at the Cardinal’s 45-yard line. Stanford then blocked Taylor Kelly’s pooch-punt on 4th-and-5 and followed it up with a 16-yard touchdown run from Gaffney to go up 39-7.
But still, the Sun Devils refused to give up. On the third play of the next drive, Kelly found senior tight end Chris Coyle for a 45-yard touchdown and ASU forced Stanford to punt on the next drive.
Kelly later connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong for a 27-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 39-21. After Stanford once again punted, ASU marched up field 67 yards and 11 plays, which was capped off by Grice’s 6-yard touchdown reception.
ASU trailed by 11 at one point. It had less than seven minutes to make a comeback, but time was on the Cardinal’s side.
Stanford managed the clock on its final drive, draining it for 5:44 and sealed the win with a 24-yard field goal from senior Jordan Williamson.
Stanford was winning the total offense yardage battle 258-103 in the first half, but ASU ended up finishing the game with 417 yards over Stanford’s 391.
The Sun Devils had trouble running past Stanford’s physical defensive line, though and ASU only had 50 rushing yards compared to Stanford’s 240.
Strong led the comeback effort in the second half, finishing the game with 168 yards on 12 catches with his touchdown reception. Kelly was 30-for-54 with 367 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Dropped passes, penalties and turnovers were among the myriad of mistakes that cost the Sun Devils the game. ASU had similar issues in its close win against Wisconsin last week, and Graham knows its a serious problem.
“So we’ve got to regroup, get these mistakes corrected, because you’re going to have a hard time winning any games like that,” he said. “I feel like I let our players down and our fans down by not having them prepared
Strong thinks ASU’s challenge against Stanford isn’t over for 2013. Since ASU is still widely considered as a Pac-12 South contender, getting a rematch with the Cardinal set for the conference championship still isn’t off the table.
“The upside of this is they’re in the Pac‑12, and we’ll see them again at the end of the year,” Strong said. “We’ll be working as hard as ever.”
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