For the first three quarters of Stanford's 42-28 victory over No. 23 Arizona State, the Cardinal was nothing short of dominant. Stanford amassed a 39-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, and appeared well on their way to a statement-making victory.
But after Arizona State scored with 14:17 in regulation to cut the Cardinal's lead to 39-14, Stanford took its foot off the gas pedal. Starters Kevin Hogan and David Yankey were replaced by Evan Crower and Josh Garnett. With Crower in, Stanford's offensive went three-and-out on successive drives. Crower didn't attempt a single pass on those two possessions.
Meanwhile, Stanford's defense was gashed by several explosive plays, and before long, the Sun Devils trimmed Stanford's advantage to 39-28.
After the Cardinal recovered an onside kick, Shaw reinserted Hogan into the game with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter. Thanks to an illegal substitution penalty called on ASU and a nifty naked bootleg run Stanford chewed up the clock and advanced into field goal range. Kicker Jordan Williamson made a 24-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining to effectively ice the game for Stanford.
"First of all, I'm not going to apologize for winning a football game," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I could care a less about style points; I could care a less about what it looks like. We played one great half and a solid third quarter and a bad fourth quarter. That's the bottom line. I didn't give the guys fire and brimstone out there. There are teachable moments, and we have some teachable moments.
"It was not for lack of effort. It wasn't substitution. We substituted very minimally, guys that earned the right to play. We had guys that were out of position, and it wasn't necessarily guys that we substituted. Some of it was just the guys that were in the game. We were out of position offensively, defensively."
The late game struggles partially overshadowed a thorough dismantling of a previously undefeated and ranked Arizona State squad through the first 45 or so minutes of game action.
"The first half it seemed like everything was clicking," Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner said. We've got to be able to continue that for another half of football."
For the better part of three quarters, Stanford succeeded against the Sun Devils in all facets of the game. The Cardinal's dominance along the line of scrimmage was a big reason why.
"They were very physical," Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly said. "They got a great front seven. Their D line is fast and big, and we had some problems with it."
On the other side of the ball, Stanford's offense was as varied and unpredictable has it has been in some time.
"The biggest thing for us is we want to be diverse," Shaw said. "Offensively we want to be diverse. We want to run it physically. We want to be able to use our personnel. You saw the play with Kelsey Young, you saw Ty and Devon making plays down the field. You saw us spread it out and run it, you saw us spread it out and throw it, you saw us pack it in and throw it. So we want to be able to do a lot, have a lot of personnel groupings."
"I'd love to see if anybody in the nation is playing as many guys as we are. Talking about playing five receivers and three tight ends, eight offensive linemen and three backs and three fullbacks. That's our goal to be as deep as we can be and be as diverse as we can be."
Added receiver Ty Montgomery, who set a new career high for receiving yards in a season on Saturday: "I love our run game so much, being able to throw the ball down field opens up the run game even more," Montgomery said. "We're able to impose our will on people, and the passing game wasn't as strong and now it's stronger and it's a lot easier for us. So I love what we do."
Stanford was also dominant in special teams. Though Jordan Williamson did miss a 51-yard field goal and one PAT, the Cardinal's punt and kick coverage units were on point, and Stanford blocked two punts.
"We treat special teams just like the other two phases of the game," Ben Gardner said. "We've been fortunate to have great special teams here over the years. Those guys did a great job... You know, if we can keep making splash plays on special teams, it gives our whole team a boost and helps us win field position battles which is the key to winning games."
Ed Reynolds was ejected in the fourth quarter for targeting in an application of college football's new targeting rule. The ejection will be subject to review, but if it's upheld Reynolds will miss the first half of next Saturday's game against Washington State.
"We'll see if it's upheld," Shaw said. "From the naked eye, I agree with the officials. We'll go back and look at the film. They'll go back and look at the film. I'll communicate, of course, with the head of officials and the Pac 12. From the naked eye, it looked like he ducked his head. There is no question about it. That is an ejection. That's the rule. We don't complain about the rules here. The rules are what they are, and we're going to abide by them."
Two-thirds of Stanford's starting defensive line got their hands on the ball with the endzone in sight. In the first quarter, Josh Mauro intercepted a Taylor Kelly pass and returned it nearly 30 yards to the Arizona State 17.
In the third quarter, Gardner blocked an attempted pooch punt by Taylor Kelly, threw Kelly out of the way to scoop up the ball, and rumbled down to the Sun Devils' 31-yard-line.
"I was thinking end zone," Gardner said. "I haven't touched the ball since eighth grade. So I tried to scoop it, and I think the quarterback got a hand on me. I was able to break away from him, but it was too late. Somebody else got there."
Stanford announced its second consecutive sellout crowd of 50,424, but rain in the area kept some way.
Stanford held steady at No. 5 in the new AP poll, though the Cardinal did pick up 29 points in the rankings.
The win gave Stanford a 3-0 record to begin the year for fourth straight season. The last time the Cardinal won four consecutive games to open a season? 1908-1911.
Saturday marked the second straight game in which Stanford's tight ends did not account for a single reception. Only one of Kevin Hogan's 17 passes was intended for a tight end.
Next week's clash with Washington State will start at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN.