Know Your Foe: Stanford

There many similarities between ASU's previous opponent, Wisconsin and its upcoming opponent Stanford. Yet, will the differences that do exist between both teams lead to a different outcome than last week's game? Devils Digest invited Stanford football insider David Lombardi to answer Sparky's Huddle members' questions concerning the Sun Devils' next opponent.

It seems that Army kept last Saturday's game competitive longer than expected. Is this a reason for concern and in general what are your takeaways from that game for Stanford?

Lombardi: The Army game meant little to nothing for Stanford's longer-term perspective, aside from the fact that DE Henry Anderson hurt his knee and will miss a few weeks (Stanford is very deep at the position). Whenever a team deals with a 9 a.m. PDT start after soaking in the exotic experience of a trip to West Point, a win is all that matters. There's no way Stanford was going to run up the score on a team full of players who have dedicated their lives to serving their country, so I don't derive anything from the game's margin of victory.

Do you believe Stanford has kept their playbook pretty vanilla thus far against weaker opponents and do you expect it to significantly open up starting this week?

Lombardi: Yes, Stanford will open things up. On Saturday, their tight ends did not catch a single pass for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era. With FB Ryan Hewitt (a former TE and active pass catcher) expected to return against ASU, the Cardinal will re-establish several offensive wrinkles. I also would not be surprised if hybrid speedster Kelsey sees more jet sweep and perimeter-testing offensive action. Kevin Hogan also hasn't run all too much yet, and that will almost certainly change moving forward.

What do you think will Stanford take away from the Wisconsin-ASU game?

Lombardi: Never try to center the ball in the final 20 seconds if you don't have a timeout. Just as the physical element of Stanford concerns ASU, does the Sun Devils' speed cause any apprehension with Stanford or does the Cardinal's success against Oregon in recent years lead to less apprehension in that aspect?

Lombardi: Stanford is no longer intimidated by speed. Devon Carrington, the Cardinal's second-string free safety, ran down Marcus Mariota at Oregon last year. The athleticism of the Stanford defense on the back half is elite. Arizona State's speed is definitely a point of emphasis on the Farm, but the tools to defend against it are there. It'll be all about scheme and the discipline to execute it Saturday.

Aside from the speed factor, what in your opinion are other facets of ASU's team that Stanford will have to contend with?

Lombardi: Well, there's obviously Will Sutton in the middle. Stanford is going to have to maintain consistently good position to fend off Arizona State's defensive aggressiveness. The Cardinal and Sun Devils finished 1-2, respectively, in both sacks and tackles for loss last season. So the Cardinal must perform will up front and use their newfound explosiveness on the perimeter to make ASU pay for bringing heat to the backfield.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan burst onto the scene last year, and at least for people outside the program that came as a surprise. Was his quick ascent also a surprise to those in Palo Alto? What attributes are considered his strongest and has he improved from 2012?

Lombardi: It was probably a surprise to everyone who didn't read or listen to our previews on The Bootleg. This wasn't distributed anywhere else, but in the preseason, we reported that Hogan had been rapidly progressing in 2012 fall camp and that he would be a threat to play later in the season. Of course, that ended up happening. Hogan's greatest attributes are his speed, toughness, and intelligence. He can really move downfield, and that helped him turn 100 percent of his red zone opportunities into scores last season. This weekend, we'll find out if Hogan has improved from 2012. This is his first game against a defense with some elite talent.

What other wide receivers do you expect to step up other than Ty Montgomery to get Hogan really going in the passing game?

Lombardi: Look out for Devon Cajuste (a big target who dominates press coverage) and Michael Rector (a 4.4 speedster). Stanford is hoping to further establish Young as a threat in the passing game, while Jordan Pratt and Jeff Trojan have both seen time this year as possession receivers.

How has Stanford's running game fared so far this season after losing Stepfan Taylor?

Lombardi: Just fine. Tyler Gaffney has returned from a year-long stint playing professional baseball, and he has looked awesome so far. He's posted a pair of 100-yard rushing performances while displaying an excellent speed, power, balance, and vision combination at the position. Arizona State surrendered over 7 yards per rush to Wisconsin's power run game, so expect Stanford to use Gaffney to pound the Sun Devils hard again.

What should ASU expect from the Stanford tight ends considering they have been a major part of their offense for the past few years but lost some of the more talented players in this group from last year?

Lombardi: Stanford tight ends did not catch a single pass last week for the first time since 2009. They're bigger than last year (Luke Kaumatule is 6-foot-7, 265-pounds), but their receiving abilities are not nearly as developed as their predecessors'. So expect the Cardinal's tight ends to block and block well, but also expect the passing game to be re-routed through the receivers and through Hewitt, who runs some tight end patterns out of the backfield. WR Devon Cajuste does a lot of things Zach Ertz did in the passing game last year.

Is there anything you have seen from the Stanford defense thus far that gives you reason to believe they have taken a step forward, back or are on the same level as last year? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Lombardi: I think experience dictates that they'll be better. There aren't many weaknesses in this Stanford defense. Shayne Skov is back to his pre-injury level of explosiveness, the secondary is a year more seasoned (CB Wayne Lyons has emerged as a stud to fill Terrence Brown's vacated spot), and the diesel-fueled front seven has put on even more muscle since last season. In the past, critics roasted the Cardinal because of their lack of speed, but that problem is long gone now. This unit is big and fast.

Fairly or not it seems that despite the phenomenal success Stanford has enjoyed in the last few years that its fan base gets criticized for its lack of support and its ability to create a strong home field advantage. Agree or disagree and why?

Lombardi: Stanford sold out the San Jose State game at Stanford Stadium and will pack the house for every home game this season, so that criticism isn't really valid anymore. As for past years, people usually fail to mention that Stanford's alumni base is very dispersed. The school's annual undergraduate enrollment is only 6,500, and graduates move all over the world after finishing their degree. This isn't a massive public school; there aren't enough alumni who live within driving distance of Stanford Stadium to fill the house on their own.

So the Cardinal rely on drawing the general Bay Area community to fill the stands, and that's tough because of all the other activities the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer. Because there is competition with outdoor activities, big city attractions, and two professional football teams (49ers and Raiders), the Bay Area is the toughest place in the country to draw for college football, particularly when a school's local alumni base is small. It takes a consistent winner to compete in the market, and that's what Stanford has finally achieved.

Serious question here: why is Stanford's mascot a tree?

Lombardi: The tree is not Stanford's mascot (Cardinal is a color in the shade of red), but rather the Stanford band's mascot. California is home to some of the largest, oldest, and most majestic trees in the world (Sequoias and Redwoods), so the mascot is an homage to that fact and also a chance for the band to do its usual routine, which is centered on poking fun at "mainstream" bands.

What are your keys to the game and your prediction?

Lombardi: Arizona State's difficulties stopping the power run will be a huge factor in this game. The Sun Devils won't be able to just stack the box and blitz the house all night, either, because Hogan has explosive weapons on the perimeter this year. On the other side of the ball, Taylor Kelly's back shoulder fades last week were excellent, but the Cardinal's secondary is better than Wisconsin's and their pass rush is far more ferocious. I expect the Sun Devils' athleticism to deliver some points, but Stanford's ability to run at home will enable them to control the tempo of this game.

Stanford 30, Arizona State 20.

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