The Arizona State defense had been much maligned in their first five games of the season. The Sun Devils looked pedestrian against New Mexico and Colorado, then gave up 62 points to UCLA and 34 points to USC.
However, all that changed against Stanford, when the Sun Devils held the Cardinal to just 10 points and 288 total yards. Things began to finally click for a young Arizona State defense that was tasked with replacing nine starters on the defensive side of the ball.
"I think this was the cleanest game that we have played, maybe since I have been here," said head coach Todd Graham at his weekly Monday press conference. "The best as far as being a unit that we have had a defense play since I have been here. We were able to execute what we were trying to execute at a high level."
The Sun Devils held Stanford to just 76 rushing yards, after giving up a combined 445 rushing yards in their two previous games. The secondary held both Kevin Hogan and Ty Montgomery in check as Hogan was just 19 of 39 for 212 yards and Montgomery caught just six passes for 82 yards.
"It was just about getting all 11 to play (together)," said Graham. "I thought the USC game was a lot like the Washington game last year. We all just really clicked there. We need to continue to progress. There are a lot of guys that didn't play a lot of snaps the other night that need to play snaps."
One player who did play a lot of snaps against Stanford was SPUR linebacker Laiu Moeakiola. The redshirt sophomore was asked to cover tight ends and wide receivers while providing support in the run game. Moeakiola is tied for the team lead in sacks and tackles for loss while also helping in pass coverage.
"He's a really, really smart player. He has a vast knowledge of what we are doing," said Graham. "He really understands the whole picture of what we are trying to do. He's really good at pass coverage, he's really good at pressure. He really doesn't make mistakes."
Stanford's style of play also helped the Sun Devil defense. Because Stanford plays at a slower tempo, Arizona State was able to substitute more on the defensive side of the ball. Graham said at the end of the day playing defense comes down to limiting mental errors and the Sun Devils did that on Saturday night.
"I think we had less mental errors because we had more veteran guys with experience playing," Graham said.
Relationship with Chris Petersen
When the Sun Devils play Washington Saturday night, Todd Graham be staring across at a familiar foe. Despite this being Chris Petersen's first season in the Pac-12, he goes back a long ways with Graham. The two met and studied together when Graham was coaching Tulsa and Peterson was at Boise State.
"Coach Petersen is a great football coach. I have studied football with him in the past, when I was at Tulsa and he was at Boise (State)," said Graham. "Obviously we competed against each other then, but before we competed against each other we exchanged ideas and visited each other. I think he came down to Tulsa one time and I might have went up there one year."
Petersen coached Boise State to 92 wins, five conference titles and two Fiesta Bowl victories during his eight seasons at the helm of the Broncos. He is known as an innovative coach who players enjoy playing for.
"He's a first class coach, he team is going to be very disciplined and well-coached," said Graham. "He's very innovative and he understands you have to run the ball and play defense. You have to be on your toes because they have a lot of trick plays.
"I have a lot of respect for who he is as a football coach. He is one of the best I have coached against."
Taylor Kelly Update
Graham mentioned Monday afternoon that he expects Taylor Kelly to progress enough to start against Washington. The redshirt senior was in uniform Saturday night but did not see any game action.
"He did practice last week. He went through most of the team stuff last week," said Graham. "I watched him in the pre game and didn't think he was ready to play. And he agreed."
Despite his absence on the field, Kelly has still been involved off the field. He still attends meetings and pratices with the team, helping Mike Bercovici transition to the starting role.
"He doesn't sit around and feel sorry for himself," said Graham. "He is working his tail off, he's been a great asset to Mike (Bercovici) and coach Norvell during this time. I know it hurts, it has to hurt him as much as he has meant to our program."
Kelly will be evaluated during the week of practice and should be a gametime decision. Kelly remains a team captain and an integral part of the Sun Devil football team even when he is not on the field.
"I hate it for him. He's a young man who is so selfless, he's the most selfless player that I have ever been around," said Graham. "He's a winner. If I was doing anything I would hire him. I encourage him every day when he's done playing football I would love to try to get him to coach because I would hire him in a heartbeat."
- Arizona State's homecoming game against Utah will kickoff at 8 p.m. MT/11 p.m. ET and be televised on Fox Sports 1. Read about how the game may destroy the space-time continuum.
- Damarious Randall has been named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Stanford. Randall collected seven tackles, one sack, one pass break-up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He leads Arizona State with 58 total tackles and six tackles for loss.
- D.J. Foster has caught a pass in each of the last 33 games, that is tied for the 10th longest streak in the FBS.
- With victories over USC and Stanford, Arizona State has won back-to-back games over ranked opponents for the first time since 1997.