ASU rewind: Problems on display in ugly loss

BY foxsports • September 22, 2013

Arizona State wants to move on quickly from Saturday's 42-28 loss to No. 5 Stanford, which dominated the first half en route to a 29-0 lead and proved to still be in a different class.

"Obviously you've got to put this one behind you," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "We've got USC next week. To win the South, you've got to beat USC, so we've got to regroup, got to get these mistakes corrected, because you're going to have a hard time winning any games playing like that."

Just about everything that could go wrong did for ASU in the first half, which Graham called embarrassing, but the Sun Devils also did some good things in the second half. Before looking toward USC, here's a look back at ASU's loss to Stanford.

The Sun Devils played a great second half, outscoring the Cardinal 28-13 and coming within 11 points, but much of that rally came against backups. Stanford essentially put the game out of reach in the second quarter when Kevin Hogan hit Ty Montgomery for a 30-yard touchdown pass that put the Cardinal up 27-0.

Receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong had a good game against Wisconsin last week, catching six passes for 104 yards, but was even better against Stanford. He notched 12 receptions for 168 yards and a touchdown, giving him 24 catches for 330 yards this season.

Linebacker Carl Bradford. Bradford had been a bit quiet his first two games this season but made his presence felt Saturday. He collected seven tackles, including his first sack of the season. He was also credited with two quarterback hurries, one of which led to Robert Nelson's interception in the third quarter. And that performance came against an elite offensive line, probably the best ASU will face this season.

-- ASU isn't quite ready for primetime. It was a disappointing performance similar to the one against Oregon last year: The Sun Devils thought they were ready for the big stage against a big-time opponent only to fall flat once the ball was kicked off. No doubt ASU is talented and improved from last season, but the Sun Devils are not at a point where they're able to compete with the likes of Stanford, a team with national championship aspirations.

"They're a championship team," Graham said. "We were not ready."

Graham put the blame on the coaching staff for failing to adequately prepare the Sun Devils to face the Cardinal, but the big picture takeaway is that ASU just isn't on Stanford's level yet. It doesn't play the sound, disciplined, mistake-free football Stanford does and doesn't have the same size or depth across the board. However, the Sun Devils again showed plenty of fight that past ASU teams never did, rallying from what was a 32-point deficit at one point.

Graham has said he's trying to speed up the timeline of building a championship program, but 15 games obviously is not enough time. With nine games between now and a possible rematch in the Pac-12 title game, perhaps ASU can get a little bit closer.

-- Strong is only going to get better. We learned against Wisconsin that he seems to be the real deal, but we learned against Stanford he's still getting better. Graham said Strong would get better every week, and that seems to be proving true. He has become not only quarterback Taylor Kelly's favorite target but also his most reliable.

Of Strong's 24 catches, 15 have gone for first downs. Seven of those receptions have gone for 20 yards or more, including both his touchdowns on the season. Strong has also drawn five pass interference calls out of defenders frustrated by his physicality. Such performance against teams like Wisconsin and Stanford bode well for the rest of Strong's season, when he'll face less challenging defenses.

-- The kicking game is a mess. It appeared at the outset of fall camp that ASU had solidified that area by adding a pair of touted freshmen, placekicker Zane Gonzalez and punter Matt Haack. Three weeks in, both positions are issues. After missing a 45-yard field goal attempt Saturday, Gonzalez is now 4 for 7 on the season, including 1 for 3 from 40 yards or longer.

Walk-on Dom Vizzare handled punting duties the first two games of the season but lost them after a bad snap led to a touchdown against Wisconsin. Haack took over Saturday and had a couple nice kicks, including a long of 50 yards, but had one punt blocked when a teammate was pushed backward into him. That block resulted in a safety when Haack had to kick it out of the end zone.

The only consistent part of ASU's kicking game is senior Alex Garoutte, who is averaging 63.7 yards per kickoff and has forced touchbacks on 14 of 22 kickoffs (63.6 percent).

ASU's place in the national rankings took another hit with the loss to Stanford. Here's where the Sun Devils stand after three games:

-- Total offense: 43rd with 469.3 yards per game (down from 29th).
-- Total defense: 35th with 333.0 yards allowed per game (down from 21st).
-- Scoring offense: 35th with 38.3 points per game (down from 20th).
-- Scoring defense: T-59th with 24.0 points allowed per game (down from T-20th).
-- Rushing defense:  T-77th with 174.0 rushing yards allowed per game (down from T-52nd).
-- Passing defense: 17th with 159.0 passing yards allowed per game (up from 19th).
-- Fewest penalty yards per game: T-9th with 28.33 yards per game (down from 1st).

-- Stanford's first-half shutout was the first ASU had experienced since the last game of the 2009 season against Arizona. That season, they were also shut out in the first half against Stanford. The Sun Devils also had not experienced a first half without a touchdown since the 2011 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas against Boise State.

-- By halftime Saturday, ASU had more than doubled its penalty yardage from the previous two games, accumulating three penalties for 30 yards. Carl Bradford's roughing the passer penalty in the third quarter marked the first penalty of the season against ASU's defense. The Sun Devils finished the day with six penalties for 65 yards, bringing them to 85 penalty yards on the season.

-- Starting defensive tackle Jaxon Hood left early in the game with what Graham called a hamstring tweak. He left the field on crutches, and Graham couldn't offer anything further about his status. This could be a trouble spot if Hood is out very long.

-- Two Sun Devils saw their first game action of the season: receiver Cameron Smith and linebacker Carlos Mendoza. Smith had been dealing with a hamstring injury and Mendoza a knee injury. Smith caught one pass for 30 yards.

-- ASU's defense struggled to stop the run for a second straight week, giving up 240 yards on the ground, the fourth-highest single-game total under Graham.

-- ASU also struggled to establish the run for the third straight week, totaling just 50 yards on the ground. That total was ASU's lowest in a game under Graham and fewest since managing just 71 against USC last season.

-- After finishing the game 30 for 55 passing with 367 yards and three touchdowns, Kelly is just the fifth quarterback in ASU history to record at least six career 300-yard games. Kelly also threw two interceptions, the first time he has done so since Nov. 10 against USC last season. ASU is now 1-6 in games in which Kelly throws a pick.

ASU hosts USC next week in both teams' Pac-12 South opener. The Trojans staved off an upset bid from Utah State on Saturday, winning 17-14 to improve to 3-1. USC last played at Sun Devil Stadium in 2011, when ASU won 43-22 to end and 11-game losing streak against the Trojans. USC beat ASU 38-17 in Los Angeles last season.

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