Welcome to our new summer series. A lot has happened over Todd Graham's first three seasons as Arizona State's head football coach. Over the next two weeks, we will be ranking 15 of Graham's 28 total wins so far before the 2015 season, which has potential to send the program to new heights.
Our No. 11 victory was Todd Graham's first bowl victory as the head coach of ASU football. At No. 10, we have one of his team's most physical victories in a 26-10 win over Stanford.
No. 10: October 18, 2014 - ASU outmuscles Stanford
The first two matchups against Stanford in the Todd Graham era weren't the most favorable for the Sun Devils head coach.
In 2013, a then-No. 5 nationally-ranked Cardinal team handily defeated then No. 23-ranked Arizona State 42-28 early in the season. Later in the year, Graham's unit—which entered No. 11 in the nation, coming off a Pac-12 South title—faced Stanford for the second time that season in the Pac-12 Championship Game, with home-field advantage.
The result didn't change.
The No. 7 Cardinal ran away with a 38-14 win, and the Pac-12 crown. The sting of the defeat carried into the Sun Devils' ensuing matchup with Texas Tech in the 2013 National University Holiday Bowl. Arizona State would fall 37-23, concluding 2013 with two humbling losses.
However, the 2014 matchup with No. 23 Stanford would prove to be very different both in the result and in how it inspired confidence into an improving ASU squad.
Coming off of a bye-week, injured starting quarterback Taylor Kelly was still in no shape to play. This kept the incumbent, Mike Bercovici, as the starter for yet another week; his first since providing one of the most iconic moments in Sun Devil football history in ASU's miraculous 38-34 victory over USC on the infamous "Jael-Mary" two weeks before.
Now, Bercovici found himself under center in another pivotal game. He and his teammates would turn in one of the most masterfully conducted victories of the Todd Graham era.
Stanford entered the game with the nation's top-ranked defense, but a balanced offensive attack from the Sun Devils would help them establish the tempo early on.
A 14-play, 81-yard drive resulted in a D.J. Foster one-yard touchdown run to open the scoring in the second quarter. Then, while attempting to field a punt on the following ASU possession, Stanford's dynamic receiver Ty Montgomery muffed the return inside the Cardinal 15-yard line. This led to a Jaelen Strong touchdown reception, and a 14-0 Sun Devil lead.
After two Zane Gonzalez field goals, Stanford finally got into the end zone on a Patrick Skov touchdown run, making the score 20-10. Gonzalez would tack on two more field goals, pushing the lead to its fullest extent at 26-10.
The defensive effort provided by ASU and the manner in which they defeated Stanford was what made the night so special.
Offensively, the Sun Devils methodically worked their oft-sound opponent, and were fully dominant on both sides of the ball.
To flip the script and come out on top against such a revered opponent meant everything to Graham.
"To turn the tables and beat a team like that and dominate them physically the way we did, because of the respect we have for their program, that one meant more to me personally than any win we have had," Graham said following the game. "To beat Stanford, the only one we couldn't beat. I'm really proud of our guys."
WHAT IT DID FOR ASU: In the short term (and possibly the long term), it provided the Sun Devils with a key signature win to refer to in order to help boost their resume during their ascension to the top ten of the College Football Playoff poll.
In the long term, the win provided multiple answers.
For Graham, the win proved that his team was could win against talented competition and bigger, physical teams that like to slow the game down and grind opponents out. It also furthered the notion that Bercovici was a capable starter whether Taylor Kelly was healthy or not, and eventually as his starting quarterback in 2015.
The Sun Devils' first victory over Stanford with Todd Graham at the helm comes in at No. 10 in our countdown of his 15 best wins at ASU. Check back tomorrow for No. 9.