STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford dominated Arizona State for much of the game, but faltered down the stretch before closing out a 42-28 conference-opening victory before 50,424 at Stanford Stadium on Saturday.
In a matchup of ranked teams, No. 5 Stanford built a 29-0 halftime lead, but No. 23 Arizona State scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Cardinal domination pause.
When Stanford was rolling, two punt blocks and a shutdown defensive helped the cause. But the game wasn’t secure until Jeff Trojan recovered an ASU onsides kick with 6:15 left and quarterback Kevin Hogan and the first-team offense re-entered the game and picked up two first downs on the way to milking most of the clock.
“I’m not going to apologize for winning a football game,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “I could care less about style points. I could care less about what it looks like.”
Stanford (3-0 overall, 1-0 in the Pac-12) won what was expected to be its first real test of the season with the help of two punt blocks, three sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and two takeaways.
The Cardinal outrushed the Sun Devils, 240-50 and held them to 202 total yards through three quarters. However, ASU piled up 217 in the fourth quarter alone while Stanford had a pair of three-and-outs that hampered its cause.
On its final drive, Stanford took advantage of a fourth-down ASU penalty for too many players on the field and a 27-yard run on a naked bootleg by quarterback Kevin Hogan that allowed Stanford to finally exhale. Jordan Williamson’s 24-yard field goal with 31 seconds left provided the final margin.
“There was definitely a little bit of a feeling of disappointment,” said defensive end Ben Gardner. “We celebrate all wins, and we’re glad we got this one. But we’ve got to take a little more pride in playing our style of football no matter what the situation.”
Tyler Gaffney gained 97 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns, and Anthony Wilkerson gained 70 on 18 carries for Stanford. Hogan completed 11 of 17 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns to Ty Montgomery.
ASU (2-1, 0-1) got 367 passing yards from Taylor Kelly, who completed 30 of 55 passes, with three touchdowns. Jaelen Strong caught 12 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Another illustration of the hard-luck fourth quarter: All-America safety Ed Reynolds was ejected for “targeting,” and is required to sit out the first half of Saturday’s game (7 p.m.) against Washington State in Seattle.
But for a half, Stanford simply was dominant.
The Cardinal shut down ASU’s spread attack, scored four touchdowns during a stretch of five possessions, and blocked a punt in the closing seconds that resulted in a safety.
In building a 29-0 lead, Stanford’s defense so manhandled the Sun Devils that they managed only two first downs over five second-quarter possessions. ASU’s nadir came after taking possession at its own 3 with 1:47 left in the half.
The Sun Devils managed a net of nine yards, were sacked by Josh Mauro (his second of the half), and were subjected to three Stanford timeouts.
Forced to punt with 26 seconds left, ASU upback Davon Coleman was pushed back so far by Luke Kaumatule, Blake Lueders and Wayne Lyons that he blocked his own team’s punt. The loose ball was kicked out of the end zone by punter Matt Haack.
“Give Stanford all the credit in the world,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “Tell them they’re a championship team. We weren’t ready today. Didn’t have our team ready, and the first half was obviously embarrassing.”
Stanford’s more methodical attack outgained the Sun Devils 258-103 in the half with Hogan completing 9 of 12 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, both to Montgomery.
The onslaught began on ASU’s first offensive series when James Vaughters, on third-and-10, pressured Kelly into a poor pass into the right flat that was intercepted by Mauro. The defensive end returned it 25 yards to the ASU 17-yard line.
Three plays later, Montgomery took one step forward, turned and caught a pass from Hogan. He immediately juked a safety and ran into the end zone untouched to complete a 17-yard touchdown play.
Stanford continued with touchdowns on its next two possessions, bridging the first and second quarters.
The first, Gaffney’s 1-yard run off right guard for a 13-0 lead, was set up by two spectacular plays.
ASU also had its kicking woes, missing a 45-yard field-goal try and Stanford took advantage. Anthony Wilkinson ripped off a pair of Stepfan Taylor-like tackle-breaking runs for 26 yards. Cajuste caught a 26-yard pass down the middle to set up a 13-yard scoring run by Wilkerson off left tackle.
A 30-yard touchdown pass to Montgomery into a gap in ASU’s zone coverage resulted in a 27-0 lead with 4:49 left in the half.
Gardner's block and return of Kelly's quick kick set up Gaffney’s 16-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left in the third quarter to give Stanford a 39-7 lead, prompting coach Shaw to insert backup quarter Evan Crower into the game.
But the Cardinal failed to pick up a first down on two series while ASU began to score at will.
“Human nature says we’re winning by a lot, let’s back off,” Shaw said. “I’ll take some heat, and I’m fine. I’ll take some heat for switching the quarterback. The quarterback wasn’t the issue. The same looks that we had before that we blocked, we didn’t block. Bottom line.”
A six-yard pass from Kelly to Marion Grice cut ASU's deficit to 39-28 with 6:18 left. But the Cardinal took 5:44 off the clock on its final series to secure the game.
“So, for us, we’re going back to our mantra, playing 60 minutes of football,” Shaw said. “And today we played about 40.”
But those 40 were pretty darned good -- enough to beat a Top 25 team and get off to a strong start in Pac-12 play.
-- #GoStanford --