For the first and only time in 2013, the No. 11 ASU football team didn’t leave Sun Devil Stadium with any feelings of elation on Saturday.
The Sun Devils (10-3, 8-2 Pac-12) needed to win just one more game in order to secure the Pac-12 Championship. They had a chance for revenge against No. 7 Stanford at home and an opportunity to advance to their first Rose Bowl since 1997.
ASU fell short, though.
The Cardinal (11-2, 8-2 Pac-12) handed the Sun Devils a 38-14 loss and successfully defended its conference title from last year.
“We didn’t have very good preparation, obviously,” ASU coach Todd Graham said.
While ASU players shook hands with their opponents and sang the fight song after the game, they couldn’t hide their feelings of disappointment. Senior safety Alden Darby and senior tight end Chris Coyle spoke in the postgame presser for the Sun Devils.
Darby still had tears in his eyes while Coyle’s eye black seemed to be smeared.
“We just didn’t get it tonight,” Coyle said. “I mean, we couldn’t put it together.”
All week, the entire team insisted it was different since its 42-28 loss at Stanford on Sept. 21. But the rematch ended up being déjà vu for the Sun Devils.
The Cardinal’s power running game bullied the Sun Devils’ front-seven and ASU had trouble finding a consistent rhythm on offense to fight back.
Stanford finished with 517 yards of total offense — 240 from rushing and 277 from passing. Cardinal senior running back Tyler Gaffney had 133 rushing yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils had 311 total yards, well below their average of 460.8 yards per game.
“They were more physical,” Graham said. “I think they really dominated, their defensive line really dominated the run game. … We moved the ball, we just couldn’t score points. Got into getting sacked and all of that. I really thought we were going to win, I really did.”
Gaffney ran for a 69-touchdown on Stanford’s second play of the game, but ASU quickly answered with a 51-yard touchdown by sophomore running back D.J. Foster. On Stanford’s next drive, the Cardinal put together an 8-play drive that ended with Gaffney’s 1-yard touchdown run.
From there, the Sun Devils couldn’t respond. ASU had a long drive that lasted 12 plays but was forced to punt. Stanford scored on its next two drives on a 22-yard touchdown from junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery and another 1-yard rush from Gaffney.
When the Cardinal took a 28-7 lead with 9:49 left in the second quarter, reminders of the 29-0 first-half bloodbath in the first game were well in mind as the crowd watched in shock.
Unlike the September game, though, the Sun Devils’ comeback effort started before halftime.
On ASU’s first play of its sixth drive, junior quarterback Taylor Kelly hit Foster on a bubble screen that he took for a 65-yard touchdown. The Sun Devils finally looked like they had an answer for Stanford’s power running game, as ASU did not allow the Cardinal to score in its final three drives of the half and went into the locker room down 28-14.
Down 14 with the ball to start the second half, the Sun Devils were in position to turn the game around before more bad news struck.
Foster suffered a knee injury and missed the Sun Devils’ first drive. ASU still marched up to the Cardinal’s 14-yard line, but freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 31-yard field goal that could’ve cut the deficit to 11 points.
After forcing Stanford to punt, ASU crept up to Stanford’s goal line on the following drive. The Sun Devils sent in redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Eubank on third down but he was stopped for no gain on a sneak. ASU tried one more time with Eubank’s handoff to redshirt junior tight end De’Marieya Nelson on fourth down, but the play was foiled for a turnover on downs.
The play-calling on those two plays was questionable, but Graham tried to deflect any criticism aimed at offensive coordinator Mike Norvell.
“I’m ultimately responsible, and I think when you’re down there, you’ve got to be able to make an inch,” Graham said. “We had a quarterback sneak, and we should have gotten in there, and we didn’t. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. That’s all about will, when you’re down there.”
The game wasn’t in question after that point. Stanford senior kicker Jordan Williamson converted a 30-yard field goal followed by Montgomery’s 24-yard touchdown catch that set the final score.
Foster returned the series after he went down but only played through two plays before leaving again. Despite making a few more cameos in the second half, Foster never came back as a centerpiece of ASU’s offense. He finished with eight carries for 62 yards and a touchdown to go along with four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
“Obviously, not having Marion hurts, but I think D.J. getting banged up hurt a lot worse,” Graham said.
The Sun Devils will still play in a bowl game, which will be announced tomorrow. Whether it be the Holiday or the Alamo Bowl, it’s not what ASU targeted since spring camp — the Rose Bowl. With sights already set toward making another Rose Bowl run next season, the Sun Devils want to approach their final game as a positive sendoff — particularly for the fans and the seniors.
“Sorry we let this one get away from us, but we’ll go ahead and get this 11th win,” Darby said. “I mean, of course, our greatest (goal) was going to the Rose Bowl and going to a national championship. At the end of the day, I feel like we had a good season. … We’ve got to get the 11th win.”
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