The Stanford Cardinal came up smelling like roses on Saturday night, as their 38-14 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils clinched the Pac-12 title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Officials in Pasadena are already rolling out the red carpet for the conference champions.
It's Stanford's second consecutive Pac-12 title.
Using a healthy dose of Tyler Gaffney, the Cardinal suffocated ASU for the majority of the game. Gaffney didn't need to pull a Tre Mason and carry the ball 46 times, but when he had the ball in his hands, he was extremely effective.
The senior running back finished with 133 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Gaffney wasted little time in making his presence felt.
On the first play from scrimmage, he lost two yards. On Stanford's next offensive play, he got those two yards back, and added 67 more as he scampered into the end zone. Once Gaffney got free down the sideline, there wasn't anything stopping him.
Arizona State had a swift response on its first drive of the game.
D.J. Foster ran it up the middle, got some space and then he was off to the races. It was a 51-yard run and tied the game at 7-7 a little over three minutes in.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ty Montgomery gave Stanford great field position, as his 39-yard return got the ball down to the Cardinal 40-yard line.
Using a nice balance of the run and pass, Stanford got the ball down to the goal line. From there, it was academic. Gaffney ran it in from a yard out and restored the Cardinal's lead, 14-7.
After Arizona State failed to get a score with its next drive, Stanford began creating some distance between itself and the Sun Devils.
The Cardinal needed five plays to go 89 yards, with Montgomery running it in from 22 yards out to give his team a 21-7 advantage at the start of the second quarter.
The Sun Devils had no answer on defense for the balanced Cardinal offense. To make things worse, four of their first five drives ended with punts.
Stanford has done a great job of jumping on its opponents early and keeping them at bay for the rest of the game, and that's exactly what it did on Saturday. Gaffney's third touchdown run saw the lead balloon to 28-7 with nearly 10 minutes to go in the half.
ASU was able to pull within 14 points of Stanford on a 65-yard touchdown reception from Foster with 3:52 left in the second quarter.
The first half ended with the Sun Devils down 28-14, but they had at least built some momentum with that touchdown. Getting the ball to start the third quarter, Arizona State could get right back into the game with a quick score.
However, not only did Zane Gonzalez miss a 31-yard field goal, but Arizona State was also dealt a crippling blow on that opening drive.
Foster looked like he hyperextended his knee after getting tackled on a nine-yard pass reception. Fans were encouraged when he was able to walk off the field under his own power, per ABC15 Sports.
While Foster did return to the game, he was immediately taken off and had no impact on the second half.
Without one of their best playmakers, the Sun Devils were fighting a near-impossible battle as they tried to get back into the game. Not to mention leading rusher Marion Grice was missing as well.
Jordan Williamson connected on a 30-yard field goal to put Stanford on top 31-14 for the lone score of the third quarter.
Arizona State's final chance to make it a contest would come on the subsequent drive. The Sun Devils had a 1st-and-goal at the Stanford 9-yard line. After two plays, they had a 3rd-and-goal at the 1. The Stanford defense would hold on third and fourth down to keep ASU out of the end zone.
Largely on the strength of a 78-yard reception from Devon Cajuste, the Cardinal went 99 yards in five plays on the subsequent drive, grabbing a 38-14 lead and effectively killing off the game.
Key Player Grades
Tyler Gaffney, Stanford: A
Gaffney was superb in this game; the Sun Devils simply didn't have an answer for him.
You have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line, as well. Gaffney had some huge holes through which he could run.
Stanford wouldn't have been anywhere near as successful as it was on Saturday night if it didn't establish the running game early. Once Gaffney broke free early on, you knew it'd be a long game for Arizona State.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: B+
Hogan let his running backs to the heavy lifting, which isn't a criticism. He attempted 18 passes, completing 12 for 277 yards and a touchdown. The most important thing was that Hogan didn't turn the ball over. He managed the game perfectly.
After Gaffney and the Stanford running backs were done beating down the Arizona State defense, Hogan was there to hit his receivers, who made big plays down the field.
D.J. Foster, Arizona State: A-
Although he wasn't able to play the entire game, Foster made his presence felt in a big way. The sophomore running back was a threat in both the passing and running games. He finished with 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 80 yards and a touchdown receiving.
You can only wonder how well Arizona State could've done in the second half had Foster been healthy. Erasing a 14-point deficit would've been difficult, but his absence meant any comeback was out of the question.
Stanford's future is already assured. Arizona State, on the other hand, can only wait to see which bowl will give it a call.
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