If Arizona State took a major step by beating Big Ten champion Wisconsin last week, its Pac-12 opener showed the Sun Devils still aren't ready to make a move in their own conference.
Taylor Kelly threw for 367 yards and had three touchdowns passes in the fourth quarter, and No. 23 Arizona State stumbled at the start in a 42-28 loss at No. 5 Stanford on Saturday night in the league opener for both teams.
"They're a championship caliber team and we weren't ready," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "I apologized to the players for not having them ready. Stanford was better prepared."
The defending conference champion Cardinal (3-0, 1-0) controlled every facet of the game to turn the only matchup between ranked opponents this week into a lead of 29-0 at halftime and 39-7 through three quarters. Stanford scored twice in the air and three times on the ground, forced two interceptions, blocked two punts, had 10 tackles for loss and recorded three sacks.
Arizona State outgained Stanford 417 yards to 391.
Jaelen Strong caught 12 passes for 168 yards and a score, and Marion Grice was held to 50 yards rushing and two touchdowns in an otherwise disappointing showing for the Sun Devils (2-1, 0-1) after beating the Badgers in a controversial finish last week.
"Anything that could have happened, happened," Graham said. "The first thing that happened was Stanford."
Stanford showed more diversity on both sides of the ball than it had in solid, but not overwhelming, victories against San Jose State and Army. The Cardinal's funky formations and disguised defenses had the Sun Devils dazed and dizzy, again displaying the disparity between the past four league champions — Stanford and Oregon — and everybody else.
At least for 45 minutes.
"I could care less about style points," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I could care less about what it looks like. We played one great half, a solid third quarter and a bad fourth quarter."
Shaw still took solace in getting Cardinal contributions came from all over the roster.
Kevin Hogan completed 11 of 17 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns to Ty Montgomery to lift Stanford to its 11th straight victory. Montgomery, held without a touchdown last season after being slowed by a nagging knee injury, finished with four catches for 62 yards.
Josh Mauro, making his first career start in place of injured defensive end Henry Anderson, backed off his pass rush and stuck his left hand out to corral Kelly's pass for an interception. The play extended Stanford's streak of forcing a turnover to 27 games — the longest in the country — and set up Montgomery's 17-yard touchdown catch.
Tyler Gaffney ran for a short TD after Devon Cajuste's diving, 34-yard reception. Anthony Wilkerson scampered 13 yards for another score, and Montgomery sliced up the middle for an easy 30-yard touchdown.
The Cardinal capped off the one-sided start when Blake Lueders blocked his man into the punter. The ball deflected into the end zone and was kicked out for a safety to give Stanford a 29-0 halftime lead.
"We couldn't get anything going in the first half," Kelly said.
Ben Gardner blocked a surprise punt by Kelly in the third quarter, and Gaffney followed with a 16-yard TD run to give Stanford a 39-7 lead before Arizona State pulled closer.
Worse than the late letdown for Stanford might be when officials ejected safety Ed Reynolds for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Kelly in the fourth quarter, a call Shaw said he agreed with from his view on the sideline. Under the new targeting rule, Reynolds could miss the first half of the game against Washington State in Seattle next week unless the conference overturns the call.
Kelly threw touchdown passes to Chris Coyle (45 yards), Strong (7 yards) and Grice (6 yards) in the fourth quarter to make the game look closer than it was. He completed 30 of 55 passes and threw an interception in a desperation heave to the end zone on the final play.
The rally put a charge into Shaw, who put Hogan and the offensive starters back in the game. But Arizona State wasted its best chances to seize momentum earlier.
"They are a big, physical team and disciplined," Sun Devils linebacker Chris Young said. "That was the name of the game."
Grice's 2-yard TD run finished off a 1:42 drive to open the second half. Then Robert Nelson intercepted a pass from Hogan to give the Sun Devils the ball at Stanford's 34, but the Sun Devils turned it over when Grice dropped a pass on fourth down.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP