Dennis Erickson and his Arizona State Sun Devils, will invade "the farm" tonight, and look to knock off the physical and vastly improved Stanford Cardinal. But that task is easier said than done.
Some Sun Devil fans might look at this game, and think that it will be a walk in the park, considering the result from 2008, a 41-17 victory in Tempe. And While even looking back to the Sun Devils' last trip to Palo Alto, ASU dominated Stanford in a 41-3 blowout in Dennis Erickson's first season as the Sun Devils' head coach.
So, it would seem to be the Arizona State has Stanford's number, right? Sure, the past is the past, but the past will repeat itself, if you don't learn from your mistakes.
Well, Stanford has been eager to make a statement in the Pacific Ten Conference this year, and show the rest of the Pac-10 that the Cardinal are for real. Unfortunately, Jim Harbaugh had an easier selling pitch earlier in the season, than in recent weeks.
Stanford started the season 4-1 (3-0 in Pac-10), while winning three straight home games in conference play, but then the schedule turned into a meat grinder, with losses at Oregon State and at Arizona last week.
Now that Stanford is back in the comfort of their own stadium, where Harbaugh's squad has yet to lose, the Cardinal are looking to turn their season back around, and avoid a potential season-killing three game losing streak heading into November.
On the other side of the field tonight, the Sun Devils will be looking to extend their two game win streak to three, and return to the postseason after a one year hiatus.
After gaining so much momentum following their late game heroics just a week ago, ASU looks to be running on all cylinders at the right time, and Erickson has to be pleased with that.
However, no matter what the records are coming into this game, these two teams will be in for a heavyweight fight between the best rushing offense in the Pac-10 (Stanford), and the best rushing defense in the Pac-10 (Arizona State). The battle of the trenches will decide the winner of this contest.
ASU Player to Watch
Danny Sullivan QB
There is no doubt that Danny Sullivan is feeling great following the Washington win last Saturday. However, Sullivan cannot fall back into mediocrity this week, on the road, in front of about 200 friends and family members.
The senior quarterback said that he "wanted to show them what he has transformed himself into," but Sullivan has to be wary to not play beyond his capacity. He has to play within himself and take care of the football.
Dennis Erickson knows how much this game means for the rest of ASU's season, and he will have to monitor his quarterback's emotions and maybe error on the side of caution early with his play calling. If the Sun Devils find early success on the ground, with Dimitri Nance and Cameron Marshall, then the nerves of Sullivan will die down.
Then again, Sullivan has started 6 games this season, and played in front of 92,000 screaming fans in a downpour "Between the Hedges." On Saturday night, Stanford Stadium will be a much friendlier place then Athens, GA.
Stanford Player to Watch
Toby Gerhart RB
There is no question that Toby Gerhart is the workhorse for the Cardinal. Gerhart has past the century mark in five of Stanford's seven games this season. While in the other two contests, Gerhart has totaled 82 yards and 96 yards. Not a bad stat line for a tough, hard-nosed runner, with speed to take it the distance.
On the season so far, Toby Gerhart has totaled 869 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. The running back might seem like a machine, but then again he is only human. Last week Gerhart suffered an ankle injury, however most feel that he will be ready to go for the game today.
The success of both teams will hinge on the success of Gerhart. If the Sun Devils contain the Stanford running game, then the likelihood of Jim Harbaugh's squad beating ASU decreases dramatically.
This is no doubt, a must win game for both teams, which makes for some entertaining football. Dennis Erickson's Sun Devils are looking to improve to 5-2 (3-1 Pac-10) which would look a whole lot better than a 4-3 record and a .500 winning percentage in the conference.
The key for the Sun Devils earning their fifth win will be shutting down the running game of Stanford. Although that is nearly an impossible job to accomplish, the Cardinal have yet to face a front seven like ASU's.
Defensive linemen Lawrence Guy and Dexter Davis are a formidable one-two punch to dominate the Stanford offensive line. As well, in recent weeks ASU defensive end James Brooks has been on a mean streak since his early season suspension.
But I would not look for the Sun Devils to completely dominate the Cardinal, Jim Harbaugh is a smart coach who will find a way to move the ball down the field. The only question will be, can Stanford score touchdowns instead of field goals?
I think the ASU defense will limit the offense of the Cardinal and force the young Andrew Luck to try and beat the Sun Devils with the pass.
On offense for ASU, it seems like a scenario of "right place, right time". The Sun Devils seemed so inept on offense before their game against Washington, I think their success even surprised some of the staff members. However, I think their is much more where that came from this week.
With the success that Erickson's squad had last week with trick plays, and the momentum it built, I look for the ASU offense to continue their inventive play calling and keep Stanford on their heels from the first whistle.
Look for Erickson to continue to give the ball to his speedsters on the outside like Jamal Miles, Kyle Williams, and T.J. Simpson. An added bonus this week for ASU, will be the full return of wide receiver Chris McGaha. McGaha will be just another target for Sullivan, after finding a rhythm with Gerrell Robinson, Simpson, and Williams in recent weeks.
If fans thought that ASU exploded on offense last week, well fans at Stanford Stadium will be surprised with the continued growth and progress of Erickson's bunch on offense and defense.
This game seems like it will be a great battle between two tough squads, with similar identities, but I think that ASU just has too much firepower, both offensively and defensively. The Sun Devils will also have a close to 100% kicker in Thomas Weber if the game is close, but I don't see that happening.
I think that ASU offense will come out swinging for the knockout punch, however, it will be the defense that ends up landing the kill shot with an interception returned for a touchdown and the Sun Devils will continue their trend of 41 point games versus the Cardinal.
Final Score ASU 41 Stanford 27
7:15 PT Kickoff
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