The Sun Devils (10-3, 8-2) dug themselves a hole in the first half against the Stanford Cardinal (11-2, 8-2) that they ultimately could not make up.
In a game that was almost a mirror image of the Sept. 21 meeting between the two teams, Stanford dominated the line of scrimmage yet again and outplayed the Sun Devils in all facets of the game.
“We knew they were going to be a very physical team,” senior tight end Chris Coyle said. “Personally I feel that we came out ready to match their physicality. I mean, we were playing hard the whole night. It was a matter of technique. I know in a couple of interviews earlier in the week I was talking about how it was really important for us to maintain our technique and a few minor things to make big problems for our offense. I think that’s what it came down to.
“But physically I think we were able to match up against them. There were just a few mistakes that we had that caused problems.”
Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns on the night, including his 69-yard score on the second play of the game that set the tone early for the Cardinal.
The Stanford defense was stout up front as well, and seemed to be in Taylor Kelly’s face all night, disrupting throwing lanes and forcing him out of the pocket far too often, ending the night with five sacks and seven tackles for loss.
The epitome of the game, and really the Devils’ season now, occurred late in the third quarter. ASU, down 17 was driving and knocking on the door with the ball on the half-yard-line with two downs to punch it in. But the Stanford defensive line had the better push on both plays, and stuffed the Devils’ hopes to claw back in the game.
“At those points in the game that really kills the momentum,” Coyle said. “Those are drives that we’ve got to finish. We’ve got to get points on the board. I mean, we’ve got to do something down there to kind of spark the team. It’s our job as the offense to put up points and defense was stopping them, and we just weren’t able to punch it in. Whatever happened, I’m not sure if somebody missed the block or whatever it was, we’ve got to make sure we execute down there in the red zone.”
The Sun Devil offense, which came into the game seventh in the nation in points for per game, only mustered 14 points on the night despite no turnovers.
The ASU defense fueled the team’s seven game win streak, and did an excellent job of minimizing the explosive plays as the season progressed. All week, the defensive players and coordinator Paul Randolph expressed that the main focus for the defense was to keep the play in front of them and live to play another down. Tonight, they failed to do that on multiple occasions.
“I mean they have some good receivers over there,” senior safety Alden Darby said. “Ty Montgomery is a playmaker in the kicking game and on offense. We let him get behind us one step, and he’ll make the play. So we just let him get behind us, didn’t play to our leverage, and he just made plays. I mean, the quarterback, Kevin Hogan, made great passes. He was right on the money with the passes. They looked like they were going to be overthrown, but they were right on the money. So good passes, and one step, you can’t coach that.”
Stanford’s Kevin Hogan managed the game well on Saturday, and completed crucial passes when the Cardinal needed them most. Hogan finished the night with just 12 completions, but amassed 277 yards in the process, a testament to the big play ability of their team.
This game will be a dark spot on what was a tremendous season for Arizona State. For the first time since 1996, the Sun Devils have won 10 games. Yes, they missed on the chance to play in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, but there’s a feeling around the program that it’s going in the right direction.
“Darby and I have seen the worst of teams here and the best of teams,” Coyle said. “This is the best team that I’ve seen here in a long time. Like I said, we wanted to get to the Rose Bowl and we were really close, but we’ve got to focus on this next bowl game, whichever one we get selected for. I think that this year with the wins that we had this season, our success has not only been great for us, but it will be great for the future as well. Hopefully going to bring a lot of recruits in and create a dynasty here at ASU. That is definitely part of our goal, not just playing for ourselves, but also for the program’s future.”
Darby had nothing but positive memories himself from his Sun Devil tenure
“I mean, it’s been great. I’m just going to go all wait back to my freshman year. I went through Coach Erickson there for two years and, the transition to Coach Graham. I remember coming in as a freshman, and I mean, this year has been wonderful. It’s been a blessing to experience what we’ve experienced this season. I mean, of course our greatest accomplishment was going to the Rose Bowl and a National Championship. But at the end of the day I feel like we had a very good season. It’s not over now. We’ve got to get the 11th win.
“But I feel like we’re in a good spot now, and we’ve shown signs of greatness, and that we can play with the top dogs. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get it done and finish.”