I could give you closer to 10 significant takeaways from Saturday’s mostly one-sided 42-28 Stanford (3-0, 1-0) victory over Arizona State (2-1, 0-1) but here are five things which caught my attention most.
1. Taylor Kelly’s numbers were misleading: Sure he threw for 367 yards but when you attempt 55 passes it doesn’t look so impressive, particularly when most of those numbers (including all three touchdowns passes) were in the fourth quarter with the game already essentially out of reach. I told you over the summer Kelly needed to play better in big games and last night was another example. His first quarter interception set the tone for the rest of the game.
2. ASU coaches need to know when to say when: sometimes the gimmicks and “tricky” formations aren’t necessary, particularly when playing a team like Stanford. Facing a fourth and 5 at the Cardinal 45 Kelly’s pooch punt was blocked setting the Cardinal up at the ASU 16. Tyler Gaffney’s touchdown run on the next play made it 38-7 and essentially sealed the win. Either go for it or send you punter out. Can’t afford to be cute on the road against a program like Stanford. David Shaw and his staff badly out coached Todd Graham and his.
3. Establish another playmaker downfield: Jaelen Strong showed Sun Devil nation and the rest of the country just how special he is (12 catches, 168 yards, touchdown) but there isn’t another consistent downfield threat right now. Chris Coyle, great in the seam, caught one pass which happened to go for a 45 yard score. D.J. Foster played well (8 catches, 80 yards) but needs to be involved even more going into the teeth of the conference schedule. Dropped passes continue to be a problem for ASU further complicating matters.
4. The special teams aren’t special: Like all fundamentally solid programs do, Stanford capitalized on every ASU mistake whether it be blocking two punts or Ty Montgomery consistently finding alleys down the sideline for big kickoff returns setting up short fields for the Cardinal offense. Zane Gonzalez missed a makable 45-yard field goal and fellow freshman Matt Haack averaged less than 40 yards per punt. ASU’s staff have repeatedly stressed the importance of special teams. Saturday night we saw why.
5. The Sun Devils won’t quit: It was refreshing to see a different team in the field in the second half even though they dug themselves too deep a hole (29-0 halftime deficit) to overcome. ASU may not have always played smart, but for the most part they played hard with a sense of urgency in the second half, something we’d never see under Dirk Koetter and Dennis Erickson. Let’s discredit the fact they were playing one of the top teams in the nation on the road. I had this pegged as a loss all along as I hope many realistic Sun Devils fans did, as well. Sometimes in college football you can learn more from a loss than you can a win. Let’s hope that was the case Saturday night.