ASU football flunks its big test against No. 5 Stanford

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                </div>Arizona State‘s offense showed up for the fourth quarter last night, but playing well for 15 out of 60 minutes isn’t enough to take down the reigning Pac-12 champion that […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Arizona State‘s offense showed up for the fourth quarter last night, but playing well for 15 out of 60 minutes isn’t enough to take down the reigning Pac-12 champion that is also ranked as the fifth-best team in the country.

For the first half of last night’s football match-up between No. 23 ASU and No. 5 Stanford, the game bore all the resemblance of a scrimmage between a varsity and a JV team.  And the varsity players were the ones wearing Cardinal red.

ASU (2-1) did manage to make the final 42-28 score look respectable, but it could have been much more embarrassing.  And the fact that it was nationally televised won’t do much for the recruiting effort.

Dropped passes.  A couple of blocked punts.  A missed field goal.  Two interceptions. Three quarterback sacks. A dozen failed third-down conversions.  And six penalties for 65 yards – way more than any game so far this season. This train wreck had it all.

The Arizona Board of Regents will meet this week and is expected to approve a contract extension for head coach Todd Graham.  Better hope they weren’t tuned in for the first half of this clunker.

The Cardinal defense spent much of the night roaming around in the ASU backfield while junior quarterback Taylor Kelly scrambled for his life.  And a lock-down secondary gave Kelly few options on his pass plays.

He managed to get 55 passes airborne, completing 30 of those for 367 yards.  But the Cardinal really cramped his running style, which resulted in a minus-four net yards rushing for the night.

When the dust settled from the first half, Stanford (3-0) had an imposing 29-0 lead and had more than doubled ASU’s offensive efforts.  The Sun Devils managed just 104 yards in the half, compared to Stanford’s 259 yards.

The one shining moment for the undefeated Sun Devils came as the second half opened, when ASU scored on its first drive.  Senior running back Marion Grice took the snap from center and plunged into the Stanford line for the score that capped a 75-yard drive and made it appear as though the visitors to The Farm were going to make a game of it.

But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Sun Devils pulled it all together for one last effort to make the game respectable.  They outscored Stanford 21-3 in the final quarter, but it was too little too late.

Cardinal head coach David Shaw, the 2012 Pac-12 Coach of the Year, took his foot off the gas following ASU’s score and replaced his starting quarterback Kevin Hogan with back-up QB Evan Crower.

And Graham, the second-year Sun Devil head coach who pulled off a big upset last week against then-No. 20 Wisconsin. responded by stepping on his accelerator pedal as three different Devils carried the ball into the end zone within a span of eight minutes.  Chris Coyle scored on the opening drive of the fourth quarter on a 45-yard pass play, Jaelen Strong pulled in a 27-yard TD pass four minutes later, and Grice got his second score of the night when he capped an 11-play drive by taking a six-yard pass from Kelly into the end zone.

Shaw wasn’t ready to give the Sun Devils credit for the fourth quarter, but put the blame on his team.  “We played one great half and a solid third quarter and a bad fourth quarter,” he said in his post-game statements.

Strong had a career-high 168 yards on 12 catches and Grice carried the ball 17 times for 62 yards.  Coyle’s only catch of the night was for the touchdown.

Shaw put his starting QB back in the game for the final six minutes and Hogan engineered a 5:44 drive that culminated with a field goal, giving the Devils 31 seconds for a couple of last-ditch efforts.

“I told our players how proud I was of how they battled, how they played, and I apologized to them for how we got out team ready to play,” Graham explained to the media.  “We were obviously not ready to play today.”

He and his staff have a week of preparation to correct that problem before USC rolls into Tempe.  Both teams will enter that game with one loss, and it’s critically important for Graham to also leave the game with just one loss because the week after that they will travel to Arlington, Texas, for a huge game against Notre Dame.

The momentum ASU enjoyed after the Wisconsin upset has abated somewhat following the team’s performance against Stanford.  But a loss against USC, in a game that is also being televised nationally, would really knock the train off the tracks.

(Photo: Stanford Athletics)