Rose Bowl slips away from ASU as Stanford romps, 38-14

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                </div>  Unfortunately for Arizona State football fans, the wrong Sun Devil team showed up last night in Sun Devil Stadium to take on Stanford.  This was the same ASU team […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Unfortunately for Arizona State football fans, the wrong Sun Devil team showed up last night in Sun Devil Stadium to take on Stanford.  This was the same ASU team that met the Cardinal earlier in the season – and the result was pretty much the same this time.

Stanford beat ASU for the second time this season, but this time it was for all the marbles.  The Cardinal left Tempe with the Pac-12 championship and a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.

ASU fans were left with that gut-wrenching feeling of utter despair that comes with being so close to the ultimate prize, yet seemingly so far away after 16 years of failure to get back to Pasadena.

In the Sept. 21 meeting, the third game of the season, Stanford won 42-28.  Last night, it was even worse. Stanford powered its way to an embarrassing 38-14 finish in front of 69,535 fans (a new Pac-12 Championship game attendance record), most of whom were there hoping to see the Sun Devils reach the California promised land.  Instead, a lower-tier bowl game now awaits.

(*Update: ASU will play in the Holiday Bowl in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Dec. 30.  Their opponent will be Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5) from the Big 12 Conference.)

The run for the roses came in just the second year under ASU head coach Todd Graham, who has two winning seasons, a bowl victory, two straight wins over rival University of Arizona, and a Pac-12 South Division crown. That’s impressive in itself.

But for some reason, ASU doesn’t play like ASU when it takes on Stanford.  In both games this season, the Sun Devils just couldn’t seem to get in sync.

If you’re an ASU fan, you have to ask:

Where was the team with the high-octane offense that frequently takes less than three minutes on a scoring drive?  Where was the team that was averaging 43 points a game – and scored 50 or more five different times? Where was the vaunted defense that has held five teams to fewer than 100 yards rushing and led the nation in tackles-for-loss per game – but let the Cardinal beat them with big plays throughout the game and run up 517 yards of total offense?  Where was the team that has stepped up in big games, upsetting No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 14 UCLA, and blowing out USC in a 62-41 rout that was one of the biggest program wins in recent years?  Where was the team that had won seven consecutive games to climb to No. 11 in the national rankings, to stand on nearly equal footing with No. 7 Stanford?

Even Zane Gonzalez wasn’t himself.  The freshman kicker missed his only field-goal attempt of the game early in the third quarter – after hitting 18 consecutive prior to this game.  It was a simple chip-shot from 31 yards out.

There is some validity to the argument that the ASU offense was not up to full capacity, thanks to a couple of injuries in the backfield.  The Devils lost their No. 1 back, Marion Grice, two games before, and sophomore D.J. Foster, who had stepped in to become the main ball-carrier against Arizona, left the field last night with a leg injury suffered almost as soon as the second half began, leaving the primary rushing responsibilities to quarterback Taylor Kelly and back-up running backs De’Marieya Nelson and Deantre Lewis.

Before being sidelined, Foster contributed 142 all-purpose yards.  Lewis picked up 32 yards on seven carries, Nelson carried five times for 10 yards.  On defense, linebacker Chris Young led the team in tackles with eight, which included a sack and four tackles for loss.

The absence of Grice was felt throughout the evening, but was critical late in the game.  Grice, who has 20 touchdowns in 11 games, built his impressive rushing resume this year on short-yardage successes, which is what ASU needed just before the third quarter ended, when the Devils were unable on two tries to punch across a score from the one-yard line.  That touchdown would have closed the gap to 10 points and given ASU some much-needed momentum for a comeback bid in the final period.

But Stanford took care of business early, knowing they didn’t want to give ASU a chance to get its quick-strike offense going before the half.  The Sun Devils have feasted on first quarters all year long, outscoring their opponents 117-43 in the opening 15 minutes, and were 13-1 when holding the other team scoreless in the first quarter.

Stanford (11-2) didn’t give them an opportunity to get their usual fast start.  The Cardinal scored on their first four drives of the game, averaging just over 13 yards per play in the first quarter, and taking a 28-14 lead the Devils could not overcome.

ASU (10-3) finished the night with 311 total yards, but their rushing game was held in check by the dominating defensive line of Stanford.  The Sun Devils had been averaging 205 yards per game rushing, but managed just 138 last night.  Kelly completed 17-for-25 for 173 yards.

The Sun Devils will find out tonight where their final game will be played.  The BCS Selection Show will be televised on ESPN at 6:30 p.m. MST.

(Photo: Stanford Athletics)