What seemed like Stanford's coming out party this season — and it still might have been — ended with players feeling distraught and disappointed in the locker room.
Tyler Gaffney ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns, Anthony Wilkerson added 68 yards and another score, and No. 5 Stanford started strong and struggled late in a 42-28 victory over No. 23 Arizona State on Saturday night in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
The defending conference champions 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. The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0) scored twice in the air and three times on the ground, forced two interceptions, blocked two punts, tallied 10 tackles for loss and recorded three sacks.
"We might have made a good statement in the first half," linebacker Blake Lueders said, "and a terrible statement in the second half."
Arizona State outgained Stanford 417 to 391 yards but looked overmatched until the fourth quarter.
Taylor Kelly threw for 367 yards, including three touchdown passes in the fourth, and Jaelen Strong caught 12 passes for 168 yards and a score in an otherwise disappointing showing for the Sun Devils (2-1, 0-1) after beating Big Ten champion Wisconsin in a controversial finish last week.
"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."
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 as 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. He has at least one touchdown in every game.
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.
Gaffney ran for a short TD after Devon Cajuste's diving, 34-yard reception. 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 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.
Ben Gardner blocked a surprise punt by Kelly, and Gaffney followed with a 16-yard TD run to give Stanford a 39-7 lead late in the third quarter before Arizona State pulled closer.
"I just figure I might as well go for it. I haven't taken once back since eighth grade," Gardner said.
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 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 Marion 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.
The loss was another humbling setback for an Arizona State program trying to take the next step in Graham's second season.
The Sun Devils began this season by blowing out Football Championship Subdivision opponent Sacramento State and then scored one of the program's biggest victories in recent years last Saturday in a 32-30 victory over then-No. 20 Wisconsin that ended with Pac-12 officials getting publicly reprimanded.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP