With a trip to the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 championship on the line, stakes couldn't be much higher for the No. 7-ranked Stanford Cardinal and No. 11-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils. On Saturday, from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., the best in the west will be determined.
The Cardinal took the first matchup 42-28 back on Sept. 21, but both teams have evolved since then.
This is a new game with new challenges, but there are similar objectives from the first meeting. What does Arizona State need to do to create a different outcome, and what does Stanford have to accomplish to reaffirm its dominance?
Just hours before kickoff, here's a look at the biggest key to victory for both teams.
The Sun Devils Must Get off to a Fast Start
In Week 3, Stanford jumped all over Arizona State from the very beginning of the game. By halftime, the Cardinal led 29-0. If the Sun Devils are going to have any chance in this game, the team can't afford to put itself in position to play catchup.
Taylor Kelly shook off an ineffective first half that included a pick and zero points for his offense. He responded by throwing for three scores in the second half. The Sun Devils only lost by 14 points, but the game was never really close.
The 21 points Arizona State managed in the fourth quarter have to be placed in the proper perspective. The production came against a Cardinal defense that was playing the clock as much as it was the Sun Devils offense.
Getting points on the board early is essential for Kelly and the offensive unit's confidence. This group needs to have success against the Cardinal defense early to put itself in position to win this game.
The Cardinal Need to Run the Ball Effectively
The crowd will be up in arms for its Sun Devils. The best way to take the fans out of the game is to put together long and effective drives that feature a dominant run game.
In the first matchup, the Cardinal ran for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Tyler Gaffney had 87 yards and two scores in that game, but he's been on an even bigger roll of late.
In his last seven games, Gaffney is averaging 146.1 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
If Gaffney and the Cardinal run game can get on track, it will keep Kelly and the Sun Devils offense on the sidelines. Additionally, the crowd noise level will be down. All of those things will be positives for Stanford.