Sunday, December 8, 2013

Stanford Cardinal 38 at Arizona State Sun Devils 14 (Pac 12 Championship, NCAA Football) - December 7, 2013

I am not a huge fan of college football for a number of reasons, but these days you have no choice to follow it as it dominates sports media throughout the year. So I knew that there would be several conference championships on Saturday, with many of them in predetermined locations. However, the Pac-12 game was one of the few not being played a neutral site, instead it would be held at the home of the team with the better conference record. A month ago, Oregon was still undefeated and seemed certain to be the hosts. But a loss to Stanford changed all that, and when Arizona upset the Ducks two weeks later, the #11 Arizona State Sun Devils suddenly found themselves on top of the conference, winning the South Division with an 8-1 record and the right to host. Their only loss came at the hands of #7 Stanford, who won the North at 7-2.

ASU is based in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, where I would be for the Cardinals game on Sunday. With a chance to see two top teams, I decided to change the plans a bit and booked a hotel next to campus, thus avoiding the hassle of finding parking. The game was scheduled for a 5:45 start, which gave me time to watch the MLS Cup on TV. Of course, it went to overtime and then 10 rounds of penalty kicks (Sporting KC won). The game finally finished around 5:15, so I hurried over to the stadium, got a cheap ticket and rushed up to my seat, not bothering to do my usual tour.

I reached my seat at the top of the upper deck right at midfield, and turned around in time to see the first play, a run for a loss by Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. A false start penalty followed, and it looked like Stanford was in trouble, but then Gaffney (#25 below) broke through and raced down the sidelines for a 69-yard touchdown.

The Sun Devils replied immediately when D.J. Foster rumbled for a 51-yard score and just three minutes in, we were tied at 7. Unfortunately for the home team, that was the high point. Stanford scored   rushing TDs on their next three possessions (two more by Gaffney) while ASU punted four times in a row before quarterback Taylor Kelly (running below) connected with Foster on a 65-yard touchdown to make it 28-14 at the half.

The second half began with the Sun Devils driving 61 yards only to miss a 31-yard field goal. Stanford did much the same on their first possession of the half with a 67-yard drive that resulted in a 30-yard field goal and a 17-point lead. On their next drive, ASU ran 17 plays for 74 yards but were stopped on fourth down at the Stanford 1. The Cardinal took over and a 78-yard pass play from Kevin Hogan (below) to Devon Cajuste set the stage for a 27-yard touchdown pass to Ty Montgomery to make it 38-14 and send the fans home to warm up and watch the Big 10 Championship.

This was not a very good game for ASU, who were simply outclassed by Stanford for the second time this season. There were 77 running plays out of the 136 total, a complete opposite from what you see in the pass-wacky NFL. Gaffney was the MVP, running for 133 yards.

Overall, I didn't find anything compelling that would make me add college football to the regular sports road trip schedule. Despite all the rushing plays, games still take longer than the NFL, and I simply don't know any of the players or their tendencies. If a game presents itself while I am on the road, as it did here, I might attend, but I won't be driving anywhere to see an FBS contest, it just isn't worth it.


At halftime (22 minutes long), both bands performed, which is quite cool to watch from the top of the stadium.

Gaffney played a year of minor league baseball for State College in the New York-Penn League (297/483/441 in 151 plate appearances), but returned to Stanford this season, perhaps because he was hit by a pitch a remarkable 20 times. His performance in this game should help his draft stock, he is now the 14th-ranked running back.

With the win, Stanford earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, where they will play Michigan State, who upset Ohio State in that Big 10 Championship.



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