No. 5 Stanford's strength suffocated No. 23 Arizona State's speed for long enough on Saturday night, as the Cardinal dominated the first 45 minutes against the upstart Sun Devils and held on for the 42-28 win at Stanford Stadium.
Kevin Hogan (11-of-17, 151 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) combined with Tyler Gaffney (18 carries, 87 yards, two touchdowns) and Anthony Wilkerson (18 carries, 68 yards, one touchdown) to give the Cardinal a balanced offensive attack, while David Shaw's always-physical defense controlled the trenches and stymied ASU's explosive offense for three quarters.
Arizona State, fresh off a cooky win over Wisconsin, entered Saturday's compelling Top 25 matchup averaging nearly 500 yards per game, and while Todd Graham's squad finished with 417 total yards, much of that production came during a furious comeback effort that was just too little, too late.
The Cardinal scored a whopping 29 points in the first 30 minutes.
Hogan found Ty Montgomery for the game's first score before Gaffney and Wilkerson each added a score on the ground.
Hogan and Montgomery connected for another score a few minutes later, and as if 27-0 wasn't bad enough, the Cardinal added a blocked punt and safety to ASU's nightmare first half, sending the teams into the locker room at 29-0.
Stanford manhandled Arizona State in a comprehensive, clinical fashion, and these tweets summed up the first half well:
Stanford outgained ASU 258 to 103. ASU has 7 yards rushing. RT @CTcard44: best half of stanford football since UW '10— ESPN_Pac12blog (@ESPN_Pac12blog) September 22, 2013
Average per play: Stanford 8.5 yards, ASU 3.4 yards— David Lombardi (@DavidMLombardi) September 22, 2013
Stanford looking like Stanford. A statement, so far.— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) September 22, 2013
Whatever Graham said (screamed) at halftime apparently worked, though, because the Sun Devils looked like a different team coming out of the locker room.
Their first drive went 75 yards, which was nearly as many as they had in the first half, in just under two minutes, and ended with a Marion Grice touchdown run.
After Stanford responded with 10 points to make it 39-7 going into the fourth quarter, ASU's Taylor Kelly connected with Chris Coyle, Jaelen Strong and Grice to make things interesting.
David Shaw may have called off the dogs too quickly. Pulled Hogan up 39-14. ASU has since cut to 39-21 and has ball w/ 9 min. left.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 22, 2013
But a failed onsides kick from ASU and a long, game-epitomizing drive to drain the clock from Wilkerson and Stanford capped off the really impressive victory for the Cardinal.
Graham commented on the loss after the game:
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford: A-
He threw a pretty bad interception in the second half, but other than that, it was smooth sailing for Hogan, who was extremely efficient on Saturday night.
Anytime a squad like Stanford—which is so physical on defense and in the run game—gets a 64.7 percent completion rate and 8.9 yards per attempt from its quarterback, it is likely going to win.
In fact, there were times on Saturday when the junior looked more like a weapon than a game manager, and that should serve as a scary thought for anyone on Stanford's schedule.
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: B
As it turns out, it's pretty difficult to throw when there is pressure constantly in your face, and Kelly was witness to that against the ferocious Cardinal pass rush.
But give the junior a load of credit. Despite a forgettable first three quarters in which he took a ton of hits, he toughed it out, kept playing, didn't wave the white flag and started leading touchdown drive after touchdown drive in the second half.
Kelly also survived a massive helmet-to-helmet hit from Ed Reynolds, who was ejected.
His final numbers (30-of-55, 367 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) are slightly misleading because much of his yards came with the game out of reach, but he is undoubtedly not the one to blame for the loss.
Stanford Defensive Line: A
Early in the game, Ted Miller (or Kevin Gemmell) of ESPN tweeted this:
Stanford O-line is winning the battle BIG right now.— ESPN_Pac12blog (@ESPN_Pac12blog) September 21, 2013
And it remained true for most of the game.
Not only did the Cardinal consistently bother Kelly (three sacks, countless pressures), but they were dominant in the run game, as well, holding Grice to 17 carries on 50 yards (2.9 YPC) and the Sun Devils as a whole to just 2.1 YPC.
Shaw has established an identity of strength and physical play in the trenches since taking over at Stanford, and that was clear once again on Saturday.
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: A
Jaelen Strong was the only Arizona State player who Stanford didn't have an answer for in the first half, and he continued that dominance in the final quarter as he racked up 12 catches for 168 yards and a score.
Jaelen Strong's 12 receptions today ranks 5th all-time for most receptions in a game by an ASU player.— Devils Digest (@DevilsDigest) September 22, 2013
Coincidentally enough, the sophomore out of Philadelphia almost perfectly doubled his production from the season's first two games (12 catches, 162 yards, one touchdown). He also drew a long pass interference and made a clutch 34-yard grab on 4th-and-19 during one of ASU's touchdown drives.
Welcome to the national spotlight, young man.
3-0 Stanford will head to the Palouse to take on Washington State next Saturday, while 2-1 Arizona State hosts USC on the same day.