The Sun Devils didn't exactly start their first matchup this season against Stanford the way they hoped, and the beginning of the Pac-12 Championship game was surprisingly worse. Stanford scored on its first four drives of the game en route to a 28-14 halftime lead.
On the second play from scrimmage, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney scampered 69 yards down the sidelines to kick off the scoring.
When the Sun Devils regrouped, they faced a quick third down after running two zone-read plays to start their opening-drive. Quarterback Taylor Kelly found Jaelen Strong on the right sideline for an 18-yard completion and two plays later, D.J. Foster answered Gaffney's touchdown with a long run of his own. The sophomore went 51 yards up the gut to help the Sun Devils even the score at 7-7 less after just three minutes and six seconds of game action.
Most experts predicted a low-scoring affair for the Pac-12 title game, but when Stanford got the ball back, the Cardinal were determined to prove those theories wrong. Stanford traveled 60 yards in eight plays and capped off their second scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown from Tyler Gaffney.
The Cardinal went up 14-7, and the Sun Devils' ensuing drive stalled at their own 49-yard line. But on fourth down and two, Todd Graham decided to gamble and go for it and Jaelen Strong was interfered with on the fourth down pass. Still, the Sun Devils couldn't scrape out any points as Taylor Kelly slipped on third down at the Stanford 47-yard line and Arizona State was forced to punt.
Stanford took control of the ball at its own 11-yard line and needed just five plays to travel 89 yards for its third consecutive touchdown to start the game. Ty Montgomery finished off the scoring drive with a 22-yard rush on an end-around play that caught Arizona State's defense over-pursuing.
On the first play of the Sun Devils' next drive, Kelly was dropped for a 10-yard loss by Stanford end Henry Anderson. The negative play was too much to overcome, and the Sun Devils went three and out and to make matters worse, Alex Garoutte's punt netted just 16 yards.
The Cardinal took over on the Sun Devil 37-yard line, and drove the ball right into the red zone on a long run from Anthony Wilkerson. Despite a valiant goal-line effort from the Sun Devil defense, Gaffney punched in his third rushing touchdown on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line to give the Cardinal a 28-7 lead.
The Sun Devils went three-and-out for the second straight series when they regained possession, but Garoutte managed a 55-yard line drive punt to pin Stanford back on its own 17-yard line.
The Cardinal and the Sun Devils traded three-and-outs and when Stanford took possession again, the Sun Devil defense looked like it finally found its rhythm. The Sun Devils corralled Kevin Hogan for the second straight drive (This time it was Will Sutton) and the Cardinal had to punt.
When Arizona State took over, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell called for a quick bubble screen to D.J. Foster to move the Sun Devils forward. Foster did more than that, going 65 yards to pay dirt to pull the Sun Devils back within two scores.
The Cardinal took over with 3:45 left in the first half, but poor clock management kept Stanford from adding on to its lead before heading to the locker room.
After an abysmal first quarter, the Sun Devils trail by just two scores and will start the second half with the ball. Arizona State has been out-gained 301 to 174, but the Sun Devil defense kept the Cardinal out of the end zone on their final three drives of the half.