Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said all week that Stanford is the measuring stick for success in the Pac-12. And through the first three quarters Saturday, the Cardinal mercilessly whipped the Sun Devils with that ruler like a nun who just heard an expletive.
From the opening drive of Stanford's 42-28 victory, the Cardinal clearly got the Devils out of their comfort zone. Arizona State deserves to be proud of the determination it showed in the fourth but the moral of the story remains: the Sun Devils clearly aren't ready to hang with the big boys.
Arizona State couldn't sustain a drive long enough to get their desired tempo working, going 6-for-18 on third downs. While the Devils did end up winning the total yards battle, 418 to 389, only 103 of those came in the first half before Stanford coach David Shaw took his foot off the pedal up 29-0.
The Sun Devils were rendered one-dimensional early as Stanford ate up all the outside running lanes. Marion Grice (17 carries, 50 yards) continued to show a knack for the end zone with two scores on the night. But a painful drop on fourth down just as ASU was gaining momentum in the third negates some of the good.
The real standouts for Arizona State were WR Jaelen Strong and LB Carl Bradford.
Strong was the most unstoppable offensive force Saturday for either team, padding Taylor Kelly's stats with 12 catches for 168 yards and one touchdown. Strong consistently got open with ease all night long. And even when he wasn't open, Strong still managed in to wrangle in everything in his vicinity against a secondary stacked with potential All-Americans. While this loss stings, at least ASU fans can take solace in knowing when all else fails, Strong will come through.
As for Bradford, everyone's favorite Devilbacker blew up Kevin Hogan on multiple occasions. The junior pass-rusher showed some serious heart when things looked lost, registering his first sack of the season against Stanford's physical offensive line. Bradford surely shot up some draft boards Saturday with the amount of pressure he continually displayed off the edge.
But unfortunately, that's just about where the good ends. On offense, Taylor Kelly looked scared behind a perpetually collapsing offensive line despite his inflated final stat line (30-for-55, 367 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT). On defense, Devils were out-rushed, 240 to 50, being manhandled at will by the Cardinal.
Even with a deceiving final score, there's no way the Sun Devils manage to hang around in the top-25. Stanford looked in a league of their own Saturday and theirs no excuse for how flat the Sun Devils appeared in the first half. Not to say Graham became complacent but this isn't the type of game you want to follow up a hefty contract extension with.
Graham should take most the blame for this one and expect him to vocalize as much over the coming days. Poor pooch punt decisions aside, the Devils now have to find a way to regroup with USC heading to Tempe in one week.
But who do you think deserves the blame for the way this excruciating loss? Tell us in the comments below!