Down 27-0 with 22 seconds remaining in the first half against Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12), the ASU football team (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) only had to punt the ball away cleanly to end their worst half of the season.
Even that was a disaster.
Freshman Matt Haack punted the ball off teammate senior defensive lineman Davon Coleman then kicked it out of his own end zone for a safety, the final gaffe in the first half that ultimately led to a 42-28 Cardinal victory.
Redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly said the Sun Devils could not get their offense going in the first half against a well disciplined Cardinal team.
“Penalties, dropped balls, missed reads, my turnover was huge,” Kelly said.
The mistakes happened early and often, beginning with Kelly’s ill-advised throw on the first Sun Devil drive.
Kelly was being pressured by the Cardinal defense and threw the ball right into the arms of senior defensive lineman Josh Mauro for Kelly’s second interception of the season.
“I was trying to throw it away,” Kelly said. “I just couldn’t get enough on it, and I should have just put it down at the feet of the running back.”
The Cardinal scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive and the Sun Devils never recovered.
The next Sun Devil drive stalled after one first down, the Cardinal scored another touchdown on their next drive, and then freshman placekicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 45-yard field wide right on the ensuing Sun Devil drive.
Head coach Todd Graham admitted his team, which only gained 103 first half yards compared to Stanford’s 259, didn’t come out ready to compete.
He said he put the problem squarely on his own shoulders.
“You just can’t come out and have a quarter like that and a half like that,” Graham said. “I can’t make any excuses. We didn’t have our guys ready to play, and we played a championship‑level team and got blown off the field in the first half. And we had some inexcusable mistakes, and that’s my fault.”
Penalties buried the Sun Devils in the first 30 minutes as they committed three for 30 yards in the first half against Stanford after committing just four for 20 yards in the first two games combined.
“You’ll have a hard time winning any games doing that,” Graham said. “That’s my responsibility, and we didn’t have our guys ready to play. We did not come out ready to play. That’s about as bad a disaster in the first half as you can possibly have.”
The 29-0 halftime deficit was the Sun Devils’ worst since last year’s 43-7 home deficit to Oregon and was a hole too deep to recover from on the road against the defending Pac-12 Champion.
“Give Stanford all the credit in the world,” Graham said. “Obviously, you can tell they’re a championship team and we didn’t have our team ready.”
The Sun Devils came out ready in the second half, outscoring the Cardinal 28-13, but it was too little, too late.
“I told our players how proud I was and how they battled, how they played,” Graham said. “I apologized to them on how we got our team ready to play. We were obviously not ready to play today.”
Graham said his team was going to move on from this performance and work on correcting the mistakes before next week’s Pac-12 opener against South division foe USC.
“We have to regroup and get those mistakes corrected because you’re going to have a hard time winning games playing like that,” Graham said.
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