The Pac-12's first intra-conference Top 25 matchup of 2013 compensated for what was otherwise a lackluster Week 4 slate. And even with No. 23 Arizona State visiting No. 5 Stanford, only a sluggish fourth quarter kept it from devolving into a complete laugher.
Last week's defeat of Wisconsin showed that this Sun Devil bunch is a good team, but Week 4 proved it has a way to go before it's ready to compete with the upper echelon of the Pac-12.
Stanford asserted itself in every facet through the first three quarters, building a 32-point lead before Arizona State battled back. Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham took responsibility in his postgame press conference.
"I apologized to [the team] for how [the coaching staff] got our team ready to play. We were obviously not ready to play today," Graham said per TheSunDevils.com. "Didn't have our team ready, and the first half was obviously embarrassing. Our special teams unbelievable amount of mistakes there. I've got 12 guys on the field on the fourth down at the end. Just inexcusable, and it's my responsibility."
Recent Sun Devil teams with some preseason hype were exposed when paired with the conference's heavyweights, and in the early going, Saturday had a similar feel. But where Arizona State showed a measured difference from disappointing campaigns like 2006 and 2011 was in its willingness to fight a seemingly insurmountable deficit.
Behind quarterback Taylor Kelly and his repeated connections with standout wide receiver Jaelen Strong, the Sun Devils trimmed the deficit enough to force Stanford coach David Shaw's hand in the final minutes.
"I told our players how proud I was of how they battled," Graham said. "I am proud of how our guys battled and how they came back and how they never quit. They had the fight in them the whole way and they showed great character."
Arizona State was an en vogue choice among pundits and prognosticators to win the Pac-12 South and can still set the right tone for that goal next week. The Sun Devils host USC in the first divisional matchup for each.
Both are 0-1 in conference play, and an 0-2 hole might prove too much for either to climb back into title contention.
Utah is its state champion
How the Utah Utes stack up against Pac-12 competition this season largely remains to be seen, but in the meantime, they can take solace in definitively earning top billing in their home state.
With Saturday's 20-13 win over rival Brigham Young, Utah claimed Holy War bragging rights until least 2016. The win was the Utes' fourth straight in the series, and they are 3-0 against BYU since becoming members of the Pac-12.
Utah has three wins against teams from the Beehive State on the season, having knocked off Utah State in Week 1, routing Weber State in Week 2 and now regaining the Beehive Boot.
Returning to the postseason after the first losing season in head coach Kyle Whittingham's tenure is contingent on how Utah fares against conference competition, and in their one outing, the Utes are 0-1.
But quarterback Travis Wilson said in his postgame press conference that in beating BYU, his team overcame a major test and showed improvement from its Week 3 loss to Oregon State.
"BYU is definitely the toughest defense we played so far," Wilson said per UtahUtes.com. "It was really important we had a good day. I didn't have any turnovers and we made some really good plays."
An impromptu matchup with Southern Utah to establish complete in-state domination is unlikely, but the Utes are as close to a definitive state title as they can be.
Washington > Idaho
Each of the Pac-12's Washington representatives faced non-conference opponents from neighboring Idaho. The Gem State's Idaho Vandals and Idaho State Bengals went scoreless against Washington State and Washington.
In turn, the Huskies and Cougars deluged their visitors with a combined 98 points. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian eased off the reins early, scoring just twice after 42 first-half points.
Washington State also scored only twice after intermission, but in shutting out Idaho, Cougar head coach Mike Leach did not ingratiate himself to the Vandals' Paul Petrino.
The two exchanged words in the postgame handshake. It's unlikely they were making arrangements for a Sunday afternoon barbecue.
Play of the Week
The play of the Pac-12's Week 4 wasn't one of USC's four sacks of Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, nor was it either of Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery's two touchdown receptions.
UCLA Jordon James rushed for 164 yards in the Bruins' 59-13 rout of New Mexico State, and none were more meaningful than the first four.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora recognized wide receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car and killed two weeks ago, by lining up in a 10-man formation.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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