Down 11 in the third, Stanford had an opportunity to flip the script. The Cardinal, fresh off a fourth-down red zone stop, had a chance to alter the narrative established in the first half by ASU.
With two of its most experienced defensive players in the locker room with injuries, the Sun Devil defense executed one of the smartest and most off-script plays you will see all year.
Jack Jones — who did not start for the second straight home game — jumped an in-breaking route perfectly, arriving at the ball simultaneously with Stanford receiver John Humphreys. Struggling for control, Jones ripped the ball away, and pitched it to Deandre Pierce who took it 22 yards to the house.
“That’s just instinct,” head coach Herm Edwards said.
From that point on, Stanford seemed to move a little bit slower.
No. 22 Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) shut out Stanford (3-3, 2-2) in the second half en route to a 28-10 victory Friday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
The first half included dazzling moments from each quarterback. Jayden Daniels ducked, dipped, dove, and dodged his way to a pair of first down scrambles before uncorking a 51-yard touchdown run, the second longest of his career.
You are pretty much guaranteed one trick-play per game from ASU and offensive coordinator Zak Hill. This week, he sequenced a pair of lateral-plays to set up Elijah Badger’s second touchdown of the year. A handoff/reverse/flea flicker pass from Daniels to Curtis Hodges put the Devils on the 21 yard-line, preceding a reverse-sweep touchdown run from Badger.
In two plays, the ball exchanged hands six times, and the Devils scored six points.
Rachaad White (13 carries, 96 yards) found pay dirt on a five-yard rush. This marked White’s 10th total touchdown of the year, which is tied for 2nd in the FBS heading into the Saturday games. He has a touchdown in every game so far.
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee (27-45, 356 yards, one TD, three INT) beat blanket-coverage multiple times, including on a goal line fade touchdown to his favorite target Elijah Higgins. Timarcus Davis played the route well, but mistimed his jump and whiffed.
Redeeming himself, Davis tipped a ball that Keon Markham intercepted to prevent a Stanford field goal at the end of the first half. He started in place of Jones, who entered later for an injured Chase Lucas. Edwards said after the game that Lucas would be evaluated over the weekend.
“I put my coaching hat on.”— Kevin Redfern (@KevinMRedfern13) October 9, 2021
Edwards says he took the defensive backs under his wing and put an emphasis on them this week in practice.
With Stanford having a slew of big downfield targets, ASU played its base defense most of the night and often only rushed four linemen. Rotating between two or three different platoons, defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce put pressure on Stanford with a variety of stunts and personnel changes.
“I’ll be honest I don’t even know who’s in,” defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce said. “I just look up and tell (coach Robert Rodriguez) we want this group, or we want that kind of group, and they go in and they produce. Credit to them, these guys are kind of in a frenzy right now. Everyone wants to play, and the only way you can play is by producing and knowing what to do. And if you don’t, you don’t play. You see the guys who don’t play, and those who do more, and that’s what it’s based off.”
Both first-half sacks came on four-man rushes, one each from Omarr Norman-Lott and Tyler Johnson. B.J. Greene and T.J Pesefea both added pressure as well.
Along with a 14-point lead at half, ASU went into the locker room with 173 yards rushing to Stanford’s 18. The Sun Devils did not commit a first-half penalty, and they won the special teams battle. If they carry the advantage in those three categories, they should beat everybody in the conference.
Daniels did not throw an interception for the third game in a row. His favorite target on Friday was the senior tight end Curtis Hodges (four receptions, 76 yards.) Hodges is averaging 21.3 yards per reception on 12 catches in 2021. He had three all of last year.
Daniels undershot Geordon Porter in the second half on a pass that fell incomplete on what would have been a touchdown pass. Other than that, Daniels managed well, throwing for 175 yards on 14 completions.
“[Daniels] is starting to get comfortable with the receivers,” Edwards said. “You gotta give the receivers a lot of credit, they’re starting to find their way. We are missing skill, Johnny [Wilson] is out still and he’ll come back eventually...I think every week they’re starting to make more explosive plays.”
In the last three weeks, the Sun Devils defeated three teams (Colorado, UCLA, Stanford) that won the previous matchup. ASU heads to Salt Lake City next week to face Utah.
Last matchup against the Utes? A 21-3 loss in 2019.
“We’ve been 5-1 before,” Pierce said. “It didn’t end well.”