Turns out the answer was in front of them the whole time as ASU took a page out of the Stanford playbook, using an aggressive run game, a stout defense and an opportunistic special teams to snap the Cardinals’ four game winning streak over the Sun Devils in convincing fashion.
“I felt like the last two games we played prior to this one, Stanford came out with a lot more energy and effort than us,” said safety Damarious Randall afterwards. “Tonight we just focused on a lot of energy and effort. I think with our crowd, we just had more energy and effort than them.”
Two weeks after being limited to just 31 rushing yards against USC at the Coliseum, ASU was able to rush for 150 yards against a Stanford defense that entered the weekend allowing just 99.8 rushing yards game. The Sun Devils were led by junior running back D.J. Foster who rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and senior Deantre Lewis, who added 51 yards on 10 carries in the win.
“We knew that when you play a team like that, you cannot beat yourself,” said quarterback Mike Bercovici. “Basically we just focused on ourselves and got that run game going. The front five were moving the pile, helping the run game. Once the run game gets going, we are extremely effective.”
The Sun Devils set the tone early, enforcing their will against the Cardinal (4-3, 2-2) on the ground which eventually opened things up for Bercovici and the rest of the offense through the air.
Bercovici completed 23-33 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown as the ASU offense played turnover-free for a second consecutive outing.
“The phrase that we have used is, taking that crown from them,” said Bercovici. “We respect them as an opponent. They are one of the most disciplined, smartest, toughest opponents in the conference. They proved this over the last two years.
“We had that salty taste in or mouth when we walked off down the tunnel; it had lingered since last December. The crown is ours now. We need to move forward from here. Hats off to Stanford; they are a quality opponent.”
But ASU’s offense was only half the story on Saturday as the defense and special teams submitted arguably their best performance of the season in helping take down the Cardinal.
Leading 7-0 late in the second quarter, Arizona State punter Matt Haack changed the momentum of the game in a first half of a defensive battle.
Punting from his own 20, Haack boomed the ball, sending Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery deep into his own territory as he tried to track down the ball. Montgomery muffed the punt, which was recovered by Randall setting up Jaelen Strong touchdown reception four plays later for a 14 point lead heading into halftime.
“I actually released off the gunner,” said Randall. “I saw him going back. I saw that it was a deep, deep punt. I saw that he muffed it so I ended up pushing him out the way and ended up getting the turnover.”
The Sun Devils limited the Cardinal to just 288 yards of total offense while applying pressure to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan throughout the night.
The senior finished 19-39 for 212 yards and without a passing touchdown.
“It’s just mental focus,” said Randall. “Basically, the only way people can score of us if we make mental errors. Coach Graham and the coaching staff put us in great positions to make a lot of great, great plays, so the only way that team scan get yardage and score on us is if we have mental errors and mental breakdowns.”
The Sun Devils defense was bolstered by junior linebacker Antonio Longino, who finished with a team-high eight tackles on the night.
Randall added seven tackles and had one of the two ASU sacks while junior college transfer Kweishi Brown submitted his best performance of the year with six tackles and some lockdown coverage against Montgomery, who was limited to just six catches for 82 yards.
“I really just think we came out playing our game,” said cornerback Lloyd Carrington. “We’re an attacking-style defense. For a couple of weeks we tried to make different adjustments for certain teams, but Coach Graham put his foot down and said, ‘Be us. We’re going to play our style of defense and attack Stanford no matter what they run.’ “He just had the confidence in us to make plays.”
With the win, ASU notched its second victory over an AP-Top 25 opponent in as many games for first time since 1997 and improved to 5-6 against top 25 teams under Graham.
In the previous 11 years prior to Graham, ASU was just 5-32 against top 25 teams. “We just want to thank that crowd today, that Maroon Monsoon,” said Bercovici. “We did it this time; we got the monkey off our back. Third down, fourth down, all game, we appreciated The Inferno. Go Devils.”
Arizona State became the first team this season to score more than 17 points against the Cardinal, while also snapping Stanford’s streak of holding regular season opponents to 20 points or less.
Arizona State will travel to Stanford next Saturday to take on Washington at Husky Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:45 PM PT.