Dropped passes really hurt ASU against Stanford.
The Arizona State football team traveled to Palo Alto hoping to prove to themselves and the nation that they were a team deserving of the national spotlight. What they ended up doing, however, was lay an egg.
At the half, ASU was already down, 29-0.
It was a deficit few teams could recover from while playing a top five team on the road.
The Sun Devils did show an impressive amount of drive and heart in the second half, while putting up 28 points in two quarters.
When it was all said and done, ASU only lost by two touchdowns. Most Sun Devil fans would agree that a 14-point loss to the Stanford Cardinal on the road isn't terrible, but the way the team looked at times is cause for concern in Tempe.
The Sun Devils barely missed the Top 25 this week after their loss, and their impressive second half is surely the reason they didn't fall further.
While the result wasn't what ASU fans wanted, there was good and bad in ASU's loss to Stanford, and many things learned.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from ESPN.com.
Lack of consistent special teams play has hurt ASU.
ASU's special teams unit has looked atrocious to start the year, and it didn't get any better in Palo Alto.
The Sun Devils had two punts blocked, one of which resulted in a safety, and Zane Gonzalez missed another field goal.
ASU decided to go with Matt Haack as their punter against the Cardinal, hoping that a change would help the unit.
Sadly for ASU fans, the change resulted in more of the same.
Haack took a snap in the first half and kicked it right into the back of blocker Davon Coleman. The ball ricocheted into the end zone resulting in a safety.
Head coach Todd Graham told azcentral.com's Doug Haller this type of play can't continue:
You go out there in pregame, and guys are booming it 50 yards with four-second hang times. And then we get in the game and we’re not doing a very good job. That’s hurting us quite a bit.
Gonzalez being 4-7 on field-goal attempts is also raising some eyebrows and is a major cause for concern. If ASU wants to compete for a Pac-12 South title, their special teams needs to step up.
Strong has emerged as Kelly's favorite target.
Arguably the biggest bright spot in ASU's loss to Stanford was Jaelen Strong, who has become the best receiver on the team.
Taylor Kelly doesn't have many offensive weapons to work with when it comes to the receiving corps, but Strong is making all the plays necessary when his number is called.
Against Stanford, Strong had 12 receptions for 168 yards and a touchdown.
He is a big body who has proven he can attack the ball and make the catches needed to keep drives alive. With so many Sun Devils dropping passes and underachieving, it's good to see Strong thriving.
Coach Graham told Doug Haller of azcentral.com, Strong is one of the best he's ever seen, and he's living up to it on the field:
I told you watching his film that he was as good as I have seen on film at what he does. He still is working on understanding how to do some things, he is only going to get better every week.
At times this year, quarterback Taylor Kelly hasn't seemed confident in his throws or reads. As long as he's throwing the ball to Strong, he should be confident it'll end up in good hands.
Will Sutton hasn't been able to apply pressure like he did in years past.
All eyes were on Will Sutton this offseason after he decided to return to ASU for his senior season with the hopes of bringing home a Pac-12 title.
So far this year, though, he hasn't provided the same impact as he did last year.
ASU needed Sutton to come up big against Stanford's rushing attack, but as Dan Greenspan of NFL.com writes, David Yankey dominated Sutton in ASU's loss:
The marquee matchup between Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and Stanford's David Yankey, the reigning Morris Trophy winners as the top linemen in the Pac-12, went squarely in favor of the bruising left guard.
Sutton was never able to get penetration in the first half with his trademark quickness and couldn't escape Yankey's powerful grip once engaged. Sutton finished with six tackles, but had no tackles for loss.
Sutton did account for six total tackles, but with all the attention he received from Stanford's offensive line, he wasn't able to leave his signature mark on the game.
He has yet to record a sack this season, and it seems like his new playing weight has slowed him down a bit. Sutton has to get used to playing against double-teams and has to figure out how to apply consistent pressure like he did last year for ASU to have success.
Mike Norvell didn't call many plays that allowed Kelly to take chances downfield in ASU's game against Stanford.
The Sun Devil's offense against the Cardinal relied heavily on bubble screens and runs up the gut, not necessarily a recipe for success against Stanford's defense.
ASU did outgain the Cardinal, 417-391, in total yards, but most of the offensive game plan was conservative.
Even though ASU's receivers have greatly underachieved so far this year, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to call more plays that allow the Sun Devils to stretch the field.
Last year, opposing defenses were kept on their heels by the quick-pace ASU offense. ASU also used quarterback Michael Eubank to mix things up.
This season, ASU's offense has become predictable.
Norvell needs to get back to calling an aggressive game that puts the Sun Devil's playmakers in a position to gain chunks of yards.
ASU's offense hasn't necessarily looked bad, thus far, but it seems like they're playing it safe.
ASU was down against Stanford, but not out.
No matter what anyone says about ASU's performance against Stanford, nobody can argue the team's heart.
Down by four touchdowns at half, it would have been easy for the Sun Devils to throw in the towel and mail it in.
Instead of doing that, ASU came roaring back, and near the end of the game, cut the deficit to only 11 points.
As ESPN.com's Ted Miller writes, the Sun Devil's comeback and determination put a damper on Stanford's win:
The Sun Devils' comeback clearly soured the victory for the Stanford coaches and players. While a few went the proverbial "a win is a win" route, something that is undeniably true, there also was plenty of grumpiness.
Linebacker Shayne Skov paced the sidelines during Stanford's final drive mouthing things that didn't seem to resemble love poems. More than a few heads were shaking in frustration. Assistant coaches looked like they were sucking on lemons.
Before Todd Graham took over, ASU's football program lacked heart and will. After the Sun Devil's meeting with the Cardinal, their determination to win is no longer a question.
The only question now is if they can execute enough to turn that determination into actual success.