Arizona State (2-0) is nationally ranked at No. 23 after outlasting the Wisconsin Badgers last week in front of 66,155 fans. The "Men in Black" survived a final drive snafu and began their tough four-game stretch with a win.
Now comes the really hard part.
The Sun Devils travel to "The Farm" in Palo Alto to take on the defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (2-0). The Cardinal, along with the Sun Devils, had an odd Week 1 bye and return home to take on the upstart Devils.
The teams haven't met since 2010 and Stanford has won the past two contests, however Arizona State leads the all-time series 16-11. "The Farm" seems to be kryptonite for the Devils as they have only won once in Palo Alto since 2000 and are 6-7 all time.
- Date: Sept. 21, 2013
- Time: 7:00 p.m. PT
- Location: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
- TV: FOX
- Radio: 92.3 KTAR FM (Phoenix metro Area) Sirius 91 (Stanford broadcast)
- Spread: Stanford by 6 (via vegasinsider.com)
Arizona State has achieved its first national ranking in over two years when they achieved a No. 20 ranking on Oct. 30, 2011.
Both Arizona State and Stanford make their Pac-12 debuts on Saturday and the Sun Devils are 6-3 in their last nine conference debuts and winners of their past two, defeating Utah and USC.
The Sun Devils high-octane, quick-attack offense will be put to the test against Stanford, but here are some areas where the Sun Devils should focus to take down a formidable Stanford squad.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly's 358.5 yards per game ranks No. 8 nationally and fourth in the conference. Kelly set career bests last week against Wisconsin in attempts, completions and total yards but failed to notch a touchdown pass and was picked off. If the Devils hope to escape with a victory against Stanford, Kelly will need to come out throwing and maintain the level of excellence that head coach Todd Graham knows and loves. In the past five games, Kelly is 105-of-153 for 1,357 yards, while averaging 271.4 yards per game.
The Devils defense is giving up 15 points per game on average, good enough to be ranked No. 20 in the nation. Last season, the predatory defense led the league in tackles-for-loss with an average of 9.0 per game. Against Wisconsin, the defense notched six tackles-for-loss and three more that were stopped at the line of scrimmage. Osahon Irabor grabbed his first sack of the year while Grandville Taylor scooped up his second fumble of the season.
Defensive captain Will Sutton has been extremely quiet so far this season and has been slow to get up in both games this season. His three tackles, two of them solo, are a far cry to where he was at the same time last year.
Stanford has looked less-than-stellar in its first two games against smaller programs San Jose St. and Army. The Cardinal led San Jose St. by only 11 at the half and finished 17-point victors. When they traveled to West Point to take on Army, they were only a touchdown ahead of the Black Knights at the half. The Cardinal, a 30-point favorite, eked out a 34-20 victory in which quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for only 188 yards through the air and running back Tyler Gaffney rushed for 132 yards.
Their passing average of 206 yards per game is 84th in the country and their rushing average of 197 yards per game isn't much better at 47th nationally. The Sun Devil defense is tough and Stanford will need to attack if they hope to maintain their 10-game win streak intact.
While Stanford has yet to face a ranked team so far this season, the fact that they are still ranked at No. 5 in both polls after less-than-convincing victories shows in the high regard in which this Stanford team is held. Their quarterback, Kevin Hogan is a perfect 7-0 since taking the helm last season and the Cardinal are winners of eight of their nine last home games versus ranked teams.
Although, Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor are no longer on the roster, Hogan and Gaffney have filled in admirably and head coach David Shaw needs to keep the team grounded and focused on one thing—winning.
CB Osahon Irabor
Irabor is having a stellar season through two games. Irabor led the Sun Devils in 2012 with 14 passes defended and zero pass interference penalties. He leads the team this year in tackles with 10 total, eight solo, one sack and three for-a-loss.
Irabor has taken on a leadership role in the secondary at the boundary corner position with senior Alden Darby at the boundary safety position. With the graduation of Keelan Johnson and Deveron Carr, Irabor is embracing the opportunity to shine.
WR Jaelen Strong
Redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer student from Pierce College in California, is a 4-star prospect by ESPN that was listed as the No. 17 overall and No. 6 JUCO wide receiver. With an opportunity to prove that he wasn't over-hyped, Strong has excelled in Todd Graham's high-octane offense.
He leads the team with 12 receptions for 162 yards and one touchdown. Much like his marquee teammate running back Marion Grice, he is playing with a chip on his shoulder showing other schools what they passed on. Strong is still working on his explosiveness off the snap while focusing on becoming a more polished route runner.
QB Kevin Hogan
The Stanford junior signal caller is undefeated.
The Cardinal are 7-0 since head coach David Shaw put Hogan under center against Colorado last year. In the final six games of 2012, including games against ranked teams in Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA on two occasions and Wisconsin, Hogan threw for eight touchdowns and ran two in for good measure.
This year, he hasn't tripped the light fantastic but has completed 28-of-45 for 395 yards and five touchdowns.
RB Tyler Gaffney
The senior running back from San Diego is ready for his close-up. After featured running back Stepfan Taylor departed for the NFL, Gaffney has been electric. He has become the workhorse for the Cardinal offense, rushing 40 times for 236 yards and five touchdowns. He has also caught three receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown.
Arizona State's run defense was exposed as a weak link last year and last weekend's game against Wisconsin was no different, allowing running back Melvin Gordon to advance at will, averaging 12.9 yards per carry for 193 total yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham held his weekly press conference earlier this week and had the following to say about the upcoming matchup at Stanford:
We just beat the defending Big Ten champion, so I would say that is a pretty good win. As a team, we talk about our goal that we are trying to accomplish and that is trying to win every single game so we can check off that list. We do point towards conference, if you asked our players if this game’s more important than any other game no question.
On struggling against Wisconsin:
I was very confident and I think after watching that game, at times, we attempted to beat ourselves, but we did preserve and win and I do firmly believe the best team won that game. Our guys have been very disciplined and I think we have been very disciplined on special teams and I am pleased where we are at there and need to continue to get better.
San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilmer calls Arizona State's last opponent Wisconsin Stanford's fraternal twin stating:
Like Stanford, the Badgers use a physical running game with heavyweight formations that emphasize fullbacks and tight ends. Both offenses are the antithesis of the spread option attack that dominates college football.
From the same article by Wilmer, he quotes Stanford head coach David Shaw:
We're watching film and we never see a tight end or fullback on the field and we don't know how (opponents) will play us, Stanford coach David Shaw said. I know (the Sun Devils) will make changes, but at least we have a basis of how they will line up periodically.
ESPN's Kevin Gemmell believes the game will be won and lost between the lines:
The offensive and defensive schemes of the schools may differ, both are rooted in the same principal philosophies: Run the football, stop the run, protect your quarterback and get to the other guy's.
There is just too much going against the Sun Devils to pull out the upset victory at "The Farm."
Arizona State hasn't won at Stanford in over a decade and it's nearly impossible to fathom that this year's Stanford team is going to be the team to see that streak broken. Add to the the mix a quarterback that doesn't know how to lose, a running back that likes to grind play after play after play and a suspect Sun Devil run defense, it is all a recipe for Cardinal victory.
It will be a hard-fought game from both sides excelling in the respective offensive schemes; high-octane for Graham's Devils and tough-nosed grinding from Shaw's Cardinal.
The game will ultimately come down to Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney running roughshod against the Sun Devils.
Arizona State 24, Stanford 31