ASU defense shines in win over Stanford

Arizona State turned the tables on Saturday night in front of 59,012 people at Sun Devil Stadium with a convincing 26-10 win over a Stanford team that cruised past the Sun Devils (5-1, 3-1) twice a season ago.

The Devils dominated Stanford in all facets of the game and beat the Cardinal (4-3, 2-2) at their own game, controlling the line of scrimmage.

“People came into tonight talking about their defense and left talking about ours,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “They came in talking about their special teams and left talking about ours.”

Graham made the switch to a bigger front four from previous weeks with the additions of Mo Latu and Demetrius Cherry, and it paid off. Arizona State held Stanford to just 76 yards of rushing and 212 yards through the air. While the pass rush numbers still aren’t there – just two sacks – the holes along the line of scrimmage were seemingly plugged up all night and the coverage on the back end was solid in passing situations.

“We went with a bigger and more physical lineup to try and take stress off of the back end,” Graham said. “I think sometimes we have so much schematics, we forget that it’s about whipping the guy in front of you.

“It was just a complete game and probably the best game we’ve played since we’ve been here. Of all of the games that we have played here, this is the one that gives me the most confidence. We really are improving (defensively) and really getting to where we need to be.”

After a slow start for both teams, the Devils were the first to get on the board when D.J. Foster dove across the line from a yard out with 8:28 left in the second quarter. It was a 13-play, 81-yard drive highlighted by a leaping Jaelen Strong reception with a defender draped all over him on third and 12 to extend the series.

Two series later, ASU was forced to punt inside its own 20-yard line. In perhaps the play of the game, Matt Haack boomed a punt 60 yards in the air, backing up Stanford’s Ty Montgomery. The ball tipped Montgomery’s hands and rolled toward the opposite end zone. A streaking Damarious Randall pushed Montgomery aside and fell on the football to give the Sun Devils excellent field position inside the Stanford 15 – a change of 68 yards.

Four plays later, Mike Bercovici connected with Strong from three yards out to put the Devils two scores ahead – a lead they’d take into the locker room. This was the first time since 2007 that Stanford had been shutout in a first half.

For the second straight game, Bercovici has led his team to a victory, and took care of the football along the way. The redshirt junior quarterback finished the night 23-33 for 245 yards and one touchdown.

“He knew going into the game that Taylor (Kelly) wasn’t going to be ready to go,” Graham said. “We sat down at the table and we told him to remember, ‘You can throw for 500 yards but have two plays where you turn the football over, don’t put the ball in jeopardy. He played phenomenal, that was a real defense tonight.”

While the offense left points on the field in the second half, the kicking game stepped up when the team needed it the most. Zane Gonzalez was a perfect 4-4 in the final two quarters of the game and outscored Stanford 12-10 by himself.

After pulling within 10 points in the fourth quarter on a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive, Stanford didn’t score on its final two possessions. The Arizona State special teams and defense stood strong and prevented any thought of a comeback.

In the last few minutes of the game, Stanford was throwing Montgomery’s way quite a bit and Kweishi Brown stood strong, not allowing an explosive play in crunch time.

“Phenomenal,” Graham said of Brown’s performance. “Montgomery is really, really good. To have to play press on him the entire game, I think he is growing up. It has taken me a bit to learn what he can do. He’s a guy that wants to put his hands on people and space is not his friend in coverage. You just want quiet corners. You don’t hear from them unless they get a pick every once in a while.”

For the first time since 1997, Arizona State has beaten ranked opponents in back to back weeks. After a thrilling finish in the Coliseum two weeks ago, the Devils controlled Saturday’s contest against the Cardinal from the get go and had its most complete performance of the year.

“It’s a privilege to compete against coach Shaw and Stanford,” Graham said. “Tonight means an awful lot to me and to our team because of who they are. They’ve epitomized character, smart, discipline, tough for the last two years. This one meant a lot. For us to go out and dominate a team that has dominated us was a great night to be a Sun Devil.”

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