ASU vs. Stanford: 10 Things We Learned in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game
This is becoming relatively standard for the Stanford Cardinal and head coach David Shaw.
With the 38-14 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Cardinal will play in their second straight Rose Bowl. It will also mark the fourth BCS Bowl appearance in a row.
Kevin Hogan and Tyler Gaffney led an offense that rolled up 517 yards of total offense. Gaffney rushed for 133 yards on the ground, and Hogan threw for 277 yards.
ASU could not withstand injuries to both Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Without the dynamic duo, ASU couldn't sustain much on offense.
Here are 10 things we learned from the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game.
Stanford Threw the First Punch
The Cardinal came out firing on all cylinders early on Saturday night.
Stanford scored touchdowns on its first three possessions. Gaffney compiled 91 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone.
The offensive line was dominating, and it just appeared as if Arizona State didn't react well at the beginning of the contest to the elements. By elements, I mean the significance of the contest. It appeared as if it was too big for the Sun Devils initially.
As Todd Graham's team began to settle down, the deficit was too large to overcome.
Stanford Dominated Upfront
The Cardinal took it to ASU for the majority of the night in the trenches.
Stanford rushed for 240 yards on 44 carries. That equates to a 5.5 yards-per-carry average. Specifically in the first half, Arizona State could not get any pressure on Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan had time to survey the field and make the requisite throws.
The vaunted offensive line also blew ASU off the ball with much regularity. Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson had considerable holes to run through.
Defensively, Taylor Kelly didn't have much time to throw the football. The injury to Foster essentially rendered the ASU backfield useless. Without the threat of a credible tailback in the backfield, Stanford pinned its proverbial ears back and went after Kelly.
D.J. Foster Filled in Admirably for Marion Grice
Foster performed very well in the absence of Grice.
Foster rushed for 62 yards on eight carries, including a 51-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He also added a 65-yard touchdown reception on a swing pass. He eluded four Stanford defenders before breaking away for the score. Foster finished with four catches for 80 yards.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Foster left the game with a knee injury on the first play of the second half. He tried to reenter the game with a heavy knee brace but was unable to continue.
When healthy, Foster demonstrated why he's an incredibly electric player.
The ASU Special Teams Unit Was Poor
The ASU special teams unit was anything but "special."
Kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a very makeable field goal from 31 yards away. The field-goal attempt came on the first possession of the second half. It could have given ASU some momentum, but instead, it ended up becoming a demoralizing development.
I do not want to berate punter Alex Garoutte, but he was horrible Saturday night. Punting has been a problem all season for ASU, and it reared its ugly head again in this game. On a rugby-style punt attempt, he shanked the ball for a meager 16-yard punt.
The great field position gifted to Stanford was eventually turned into a touchdown. Graham and the Sun Devils desperately need to address the punting situation in the offseason.
ASU Missed Marion Grice
It was quite clear Arizona State missed Grice dearly in this contest.
Grice is the heartbeart of ASU's offense. When Grice is playing well, ASU's offense is likely firing on all cylinders. He not only gets the Sun Devils tough yards on the ground, but he's also a big threat in the pass game out of the backfield. He leads the team with 996 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.
Without Grice Saturday night, ASU couldn't exercise any semblance of ball control. It forced ASU into shrinking its playbook. As a result, the team only scored 14 points on the night.
It's no coincidence regarding the correlation between Grice's absence and the struggles Saturday night on offense.
Tyler Gaffney Is a Workhorse
It was status quo for Stanford's hammer in the backfield.
Gaffney isn't flashy by any stretch. However, his workmanlike means of operation makes him a very potent back.
The tailback from San Diego rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. In the first quarter alone, Gaffney rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Much like Grice is to Arizona State, Gaffney is the fulcrum for Stanford's success on offense. When he's running like he did on Saturday night, it opens up the pass attack for the Cardinal. The play action was effective in large part to Gaffney's productivity on the ground.
His physical style of running set the tone Saturday night, and the Sun Devils had no answer for the vaunted Stanford rush attack.
Stanford Outclassed Arizona State
This is not an indictment of Arizona State in any way.
Simply put, Stanford is the superior football team in all facets. The Cardinal dominated the line of scrimmage with their offensive and defensive lines. Stanford was also not caught up in the significance of the game.
Stanford had played in games like the one played Saturday night. But for this current group of ASU players, it had not played in a contest with such implications. The team came out tight, and thus was thoroughly dominated by the more experienced team.
Kevin Hogan Was Wonderful
Aside from one minor blemish (a fumble) late in the fourth quarter, Stanford's signal-caller was nothing short of sensational.
Hogan went 12-of-18 for 277 yards and a touchdown. He was poised and confident in the pocket, making the requisite throws down the field. Hogan's deep ball was fantastic Saturday. He completed multiple passes vertically, including a 78-yard strike to Devon Cajuste.
His efficiency was off the charts for the majority of the contest. Although he only accrued 24 yards on the ground, Hogan's legs enabled him to convert on multiple third-down attempts.
This might have been the most complete football game Hogan has played to date.
ASU Is on the Right Track
Graham and his team took a big step up this season.
A Pac-12 South Division title and a double-digit win total is something to be proud of. Graham's team had reeled off seven straight victories leading up to this game.
Graham created a culture rooted in discipline and effort. His team continued to fight throughout the season and showed impressive resolve. From a recruiting standpoint, expect an upgrade in talent, especially coming off such a successful season.
ASU now knows what it needs to do in order to consistently play for conference titles. Under Graham, expect the Sun Devils to battle for supremacy in the Pac-12 South for years to come.
Stanford Is the Class of the West Coast
Take a look at Stanford's resume in the past four years, courtesy of Stewart Mandel of SI.com:
- Four straight BCS Bowl appearances
- Second straight Rose Bowl appearance
- Four straight seasons with at least 11 wins
There's no question, Stanford is the elite football program not only in the Pac-12, but on the West Coast. David Shaw has taken the foundation set by Jim Harbaugh and has continued to keep the ball rolling in Palo Alto.
"Nerd Nation" will live on and continue to be the best mix of athletics and academics of any football program in the country.
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