ASU running back Marion Grice is surrounded by Stanford defenders during their game Sept. 21. Stanford won 42-28, and it wasn’t that close.
TEMPE — All week, Arizona State was asked about Sept. 21. All week, the Sun Devils answered the same way.
“We’re a different team.”
Seventy-seven days have passed since that day in Northern California. Seventy-seven days since Stanford drilled ASU 42-28 in a game that wasn’t that close, a game that showed the Sun Devils just how far they had to go to reach a championship level.
Tonight the sequel unfolds at Sun Devil Stadium in the Pac-12 Championship Game. South Division champ ASU (10-2) has won eight of nine since losing to Stanford, including seven straight. North Division champ Stanford (10-2) has won seven of nine in that span. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl, a place the No. 11 Sun Devils haven’t visited on New Year’s Day since 1997 and a place that could elevate the program to a national level in coach Todd Graham’s second season.
“This is huge,” senior left tackle Evan Finkenberg said. “It can put us on the national stage, show that we’re one of the top teams. We want to keep winning. ”
For ASU, it’s new territory. In the 14 previous years of the BCS, the Sun Devils have never played in a BCS bowl game, and seldom have they been in a position to do so. They have been ranked in the BCS standings — the measure in which BCS bowl teams are selected — in only four years. No.7 Stanford, on the other hand, has played in four BCS bowl games.
“Last year we were fortunate enough to have (this game) at home,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “This time we have to go on the road. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be an exciting environment .”
Stanford thrives on power; ASU relies on speed. In the first game, power won decisively. Stanford jumped out to a 29-0 halftime lead and led 39-7 before ASU surged. The Sun Devils watched the game film this week. They said they didn’t recognize themselves.
ASU got beat up at the line of scrimmage, averaging just 2.1 yards per rush and allowing 10 negative-yardage plays. It committed several special-teams mistakes and gave up several big plays.
“Guys are more confident” now, junior left guard Jamil Douglas said. “We got to get on this field and come off the ball. Don’t let them dictate what we do. That’s what happened the first time. We let their scheme and their exotic blitzes dictate how aggressive we played.”
In that sense, ASU is thankful for a second chance.
“The good thing about our guys, I don’t think they’re satisfied just to get here,” tight ends coach Chip Long said. “They want to win, and I think it’s a better deal that we get to play Stanford again, so this time they get to see our best.”