A look back at ASU’s 42-28 loss to No. 5 Stanford on Saturday:
At halftime, I’m sure many ASU fans were obliged to change the channel, and rightfully so.
For the one’s that didn’t, the Sun Devils gave an incentive for fans to keep watching for just a bit. ASU made a great rally that coach Todd Graham said defined the character of his team under adversity. It made Stanford cautious on its last clock-killing drive of the game.
But it’s tough for any team to come back from a 29-point deficit.
The first play of ASU’s opening drive in the third quarter immediately brought back hope. On first-and-10, redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong for 30 yards. Senior running back Marion Grice followed it up with an eight-yard rush and another for seven yards and a first down. Kelly threw another 28-yard strike to Strong. After not even sniffing the endzone in the first half, Grice finally scored a touchdown for two yards to give ASU its first score.
The Sun Devils needed something more. Redshirt senior defensive back Robert Nelson, Jr. came up with an interception but ASU ruined the chance by not converting on a fourth-down attempt.
The Sun Devils had a very minor victory by only giving up a field goal on Stanford’s next drive. ASU got stopped again on third down and the Cardinal blocked Kelly’s pooch-punt to add to the long list of the Sun Devils’ errors, later resulting in a Stanford touchdown.
ASU could’ve easily gave up. The Sun Devils were down 25 points at the start of the fourth quarter but this is where the rally truly started.
Kelly threw a 45-yard bomb to junior tight end Chris Coyle to narrow the deficit to 39-14. After forcing Stanford to punt, Kelly completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong that made it 39-21. Stanford came up short again and ASU marched up 67 yards on 11 plays that resulted in a six-yard touchdown pass to Grice cut the lead to 12.
The Cardinal was playing keep-away in it’s the next possession and ASU had a chance to stop them. The Sun Devils eventually forced a fourth-and-one situation on their own 38-yard line, but ASU was flagged for having 12 men on the field and basically ended their chances to win.
ASU’s offense was much better in the second half. After only having seven rushing yards and 96 passing yards in the first half, the Sun Devils answered with 43 rushing yards and 271 passing yards in the second half and totaled 7.1 yards per play.
Although Kelly looked uncomfortable in the pocket, he had help from Strong, Grice and sophomore running back D.J. Foster in practically every drive the Sun Devils scored in.
By the way, Foster finished the game with eight receptions for 80 yards. His rushing numbers? Zero carries for zero yards.
There were also several other moments in the game that could’ve dramatically turned the game around.
Redshirt freshman safety Laiu Moeakiola popped the ball out of Stanford senior running back Tyler Gaffney’s hands in the third quarter and the play was initially called a fumble, but the officials overturned it after review. Stanford senior All-American free safety Ed Reynolds was ejected for targeting Strong on ASU’s final scoring drive and gave the Cardinal a reason to be cautious the rest of the game.
The chances were there for ASU to mount a comeback, but the Sun Devils had too many errors that cost them the chance at the upset. A combination of dropped passes, an uncharacteristic six penalties, two blocked punts and just being outmatched on both ends of the line of scrimmage was just too much to overcome.
Fresh from reports of agreeing to a contract extension, Graham said the team’s mistakes are on him and that he knows those must be fixed before a crucial Pac-12 South meeting against USC on Sept. 28.
“I’m embarrassed the mistakes we made as a coaching staff,” Graham said. “Those things are acceptable. We got a punt blocked, we got a New York punt blocked with our quarterback, we’ve got 12 guys on the field, we’ve got two kickoffs ran back to midfield. You’ll have a hard time winning any games doing that. That’s my responsibility, and we didn’t have our guys ready to play. We did not come out ready to play.”
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