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Stanford Football: What Cardinal Need to Fix Before Pac-12 Title Game

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Stanford Football: What Cardinal Need to Fix Before Pac-12 Title Game
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

With victories last week, the Stanford Cardinal and Arizona State Sun Devils have clinched spots in the Pac-12 Championship. That renders Stanford's game against Notre Dame virtually meaningless to its Rose Bowl hopes. But it will need to focus on a few areas if it hopes to secure a Pac-12 title.

One area Stanford should focus on is working a second receiver into the passing game. That either means getting Devon Cajuste or Michael Rector involved more.

Cajuste is Stanford's second-leading receiver, but he's had just one catch in the last four weeks while recovering from injury. Meanwhile, Rector had seven of his 11 receptions on the year in that same span.

After Ty Montgomery's five-touchdown performance against Cal, it's a sure bet that the Sun Devils will do everything they can to slow him down. For the Cardinal, it would be a huge asset to have a second option that Kevin Hogan feels comfortable with.

Then again, maybe Montgomery is the option no matter what the coverage is. As seen in the highlights of his five-touchdown performance below, Stanford will find a way to get Montgomery the ball:

A second area of focus will be on red-zone offense. In Stanford's recent loss to USC, it made four trips to the red zone and only came up with 10 points. The two non-scoring drives, as seen in the highlights below, were a blocked field goal and an interception.

Three points in either drive would have meant the difference in the 20-17 loss. "We go down there twice and get the field goal blocked and throw an interception," David Shaw said, via Andy Drukarev of Rivals.com.

"That's not going to win on the road in this conference."

And barring more help from the Arizona Wildcats this week, the Cardinal will be playing the Pac-12 Championship on the road, according to Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle. To beat ASU, Stanford may need more than three points on red-zone trips.

Currently, Stanford ranks 86th in red-zone touchdown percentage. As David Lombardi pointed out before the Cal game, Stanford had its worst red-zone TD percentage since 2007:

The Cardinal went 4-8 that year.

Generally, with a shorter field, defenses are able to stack the box against the run and leave defensive backs on an island against receivers. Stanford will need to find some more creative plays to convert red-zone possessions into touchdowns against the Sun Devils.

The final area of focus for Stanford should be the two-minute drill. Stanford usually controls tempo with Tyler Gaffney and its running game. That obviously milks the clock and is ineffective in hurry-up situations.

It would be a huge asset if Stanford got the opportunity to practice a two-minute drill situation against Notre Dame's defense.

Having a successful two-minute offense would give Stanford some confidence in its ability to score quickly if it happens to need it.

Stanford is usually able to dictate tempo with its running game and at least keep the game close. It has yet to face a deficit over 14 points at any point this season.

Having a two-minute or hurry-up offense would be nice to have up Shaw's sleeve, in case Stanford finds itself trailing by three scores at some point.

If the Cardinal can play Stanford football, then they'll beat Notre Dame. A victory over a ranked rival is certain to get Stanford rolling into the Pac-12 title game on an emotional high. If the Cardinal have the opportunity to develop a second receiver, score in the red zone and run a hurry-up offense against Notre Dame, they'll be in prime position to take on Arizona State.

At the very least, it would be nice for David Shaw to see what he has in these areas before the Pac-12 title game. Clearly, Stanford has a great ground game, fantastic pass-rush and one stud receiver.

That might be enough.

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