Stanford preview

Looking the home track record of Arizona State and road woes of Stanford, the odds makers have the Sun Devils as a favorite hosting the Cardinal in the Pac-12 championship game. Yet, this is a Stanford squad the humbled Arizona State back in September. Can Arizona State exact revenge and earn a Rose Bowl berth? Joe Healey examines Arizona State's next opponent.

Offense Preview

At quarterback, Kevin Hogan has facilitated a 10-win season for the Cardinal though his numbers aren't as sensational as many quarterbacks in the position to potentially lead his team to a BCS bowl game.

Through 12 contests, the sophomore has totaled 2,210 passing yards with a completion rate of 61% with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Stanford's third-leading rusher as well, Hogan has totaled 290 net yards on the ground with a pair of scores.

In Stanford's September meeting with ASU, Hogan wasn't a massive catalyst in the Cardinal's victory as he only threw for 151 yards and rushed for 37.

Tyler Gaffney totaled 95 rush yards with two scores against ASU in September and was sensational all season long as the eventual Second-Team All-Pac-12 member totaled 1,485 rush yards with 17 touchdowns in addition to 13 receptions with another score.

A power runner inside the tackles, Gaffney undoubtedly will look to ride his powerful offensive line through the heart of the Sun Devil defensive line until ASU is able to provide enough resistance to change plans.

Anthony Wilkerson averaged fewer than 25 rushing yards per game but had a solid outing against the Devils the first time around, totaling 68 yards on 18 carries with one of his two touchdowns on the regular season.

Few teams in the Pac-12 are as one-sided at wide receiver as the Cardinal, with Second-Team All-Pac-12 member Ty Montgomery owning 53 of Stanford's 168 receptions, 868 of the team's 2,351 receiving yards and nine of the Cardinal's 20 touchdown catches.

A speedy deep threat and special teams star, Montgomery is dangerous in the play action game if defenses creep too closely to stop Gaffney.

Devon Cajuste had a solid season as Stanford's second-leading receiver, totaling 25 receptions for 471 yards with five scores, while Kodi Whitfield added 16 receptions for 170 yards with a touchdown.

A downfield wildcard in the pass game is Michael Rector, who averaged a ridiculous 32.1 yards per reception after catching 11 passes for 353 yards with three scores.

Different from recent years where the position was a strength on a national level, Stanford has received next to nothing from its tight ends in terms of productivity in the pass game.

As it has been for several years, the heart-and-soul of Stanford's offense—and team as a whole—is its offensive line. It comes as no surprise that all five starters earned some measure of all-conference recognition this season, with First-Team All-Pac-12 LG David Yankey leading the way followed by a trio of Second-Team All-Pac-12 members in LT Andrus Peat, C Khalil Wilkes and RT Cameron Fleming. RG Kevin Danser rounded out the group by earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 accolades.

In general, the Cardinal line bullied the Sun Devils earlier this season, allowing just one sack of Hogan while helping push a net total of 240 rush yards.

Offense in a Nutshell

Much like it did in September, Stanford will look to establish dominance with its offensive line and use the hard-running Gaffney to churn out ground at a high yards-per-carry clip. Then, when the timing is right, Hogan will look downfield for Montgomery or his other deep threats that have emerged over the course of the season.

ASU's defensive line—and defense in general—has improved drastically since the two teams met in September, which is a major plus for the Devils as Arizona State was pushed around defensively much more often than not in that encounter.

Defense Preview

In similar fashion to its elite offensive front, Stanford uses its power-driven defensive front seven to bludgeon opposing backfields.

The Cardinal three-man defensive front figures to feature ends Josh Mauro (47 tackles, 10.5 TFL's, 4.0 sacks) and Henry Anderson (14 tackles) with David Parry (20 tackles, 4.0 TFL's) between them at tackle. Both Anderson and Mauro were named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 this year.

Phoenix native Trent Murphy, a two-time First-Team All-Pac-12 member and a top-rated runner-up to Will Sutton for this year's Pac-12 Conference Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Award, has emerged into Stanford's premier defender.

The current national leader in sacks (13.0), Murphy has added 51 total tackles including 19.5 for loss with seven pass deflections. A terror from his outside linebacker position, Murphy is a force for ASU's offensive line to account for on every play.

Not far behind Murphy in terms of overall impact is veteran linebacker Shayne Skov, Stanford's leading tackler (91) and a First-Team All-Pac-12 member. Skov excels at rushing to the backfield, as he leads the team with 10 quarterbacks hurries, ranks third on the squad with 10.0 tackles-for-loss and has added 4.5 sacks.

A.J. Tarpley joins Skov at starting inside linebacker with James Vaughters opposite Murphy at outside linebacker in Stanford's 3-4 alignment.

Tarpley finished second on the team with 80 tackles including 5.0 for loss, on his way to Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 accolades, while Vaughters chipped in 32 tackles, 6.0 TFL's and 4.0 sacks.

At cornerback, Alex Carter netted Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 recognition after posting 54 tackles with six pass deflections, while Wayne Lyons (61 tackles) is fresh off a two-interception effort last week against Notre Dame.

A First-Team All-Pac-12 member for the second straight year, FS Ed Reynolds was the key in Stanford's secondary through the regular season, ranking third on the team with 74 tackles. SS Jordan Richards (62 tackles, team-high three INT's) was also recognized by the league, garnering Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 recognition.

Defense in a Nutshell

After allowing ASU to net merely 50 rush yards the first time around, it is highly plausible Stanford will look to again punish the Sun Devil offensive line. To ASU's credit, the Sun Devil line has improved over the second half of the season, but this test will again be a fierce challenge for the Arizona State blockers.

If ASU can fend off the Cardinal front seven, the odds for success increase dramatically as Stanford ranks 96th in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (254.0) and yielded a massive breakout performance by ASU WR Jaelen Strong.

Special Teams Preview

The most dangerous component of Stanford's special teams is First-Team All-Pac-12 kick returner Ty Montgomery, who averaged 31.3 yards per return during the regular season with two scores. Montgomery was certainly a factor in the return game against ASU in September, posting a 50-yard kick return that afternoon.

Kodi Whitfield and Barry Sanders, Jr. have split punt return duties this season, with Whitfield averaging 4.9 yards on eight returns and Sanders averaging 11.3 yards on six returns.

Punter Ben Rhyne took home Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition after averaging 42.2 yards on 44 punts.

Jordan Williamson has handled the majority of Stanford's kicking duties, connecting on 15-of-19 attempts this year including 12-of-13 from inside 40 yards.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

Stand Tough on the Lines

With its fearsome offensive and defensive fronts, Stanford has the ability to create domination in a hurry and hush the insane Sun Devil Stadium crowd.

ASU has fortified its defense tremendously since the teams last met, giving the Devils hope that the outcome on defense will prove to be more impressive than what was seen in September.

On offense, ASU's offensive line likely needs its best collective outing of the season to give the Devils the advantages they need to try to exploit a subpar Stanford pass defense.

Protect Kelly

Similar to when ASU played Utah, the scouting report on the Stanford defense is that if the powerhouse front can be blocked, the secondary can be ripe for the picking. Unfortunately that afternoon in Salt Lake City, ASU was unable to block the Utah front and the Devils' offense sputtered to a one-point win over the Utes.

Slowing down Murphy, Skov and company is a massive task few teams have mastered, but if ASU's line can do so enough that Kelly has time to not be rushed through his reads, he can be granted opportunities to find Jaelen Strong downfield for potential mismatches.

Special Teams Stability

A known commodity as a sensational kick returner, Ty Montgomery absolutely has to have a massive bull's eye on his jersey when it comes to ASU's special teams. If he is able to explode 50-yard returns as he did in September, or crack off consistent yardage such as Ishmael Adams for UCLA did recently, field position will swing Stanford's way, which gives a power team like the Cardinal a substantial advantage.

Conclusion

Sun Devil football hasn't reached this magnitude since 1996 and it is absolutely surreal that the opportunity to stand 60 minutes from the Rose Bowl is what Arizona State faces this weekend.

Certainly, when the two teams met in September the Devils had their worst outing of the year, though ASU didn't go down without a fight as Arizona State made the outcome interesting with a 28-point second half after a scoreless first two quarters.

However, the past seven games ASU has taken care of business in a variety of ways – blowouts, nail biters, imperfect performances – to the point that the Devils have earned the right to host the Pac-12 Championship Game against the visiting Cardinal.

At this point, ASU is riding incredible momentum and it simply seems like one of those storybook seasons that shouldn't have an ending that features an appearance in the Alamo or Holiday Bowls.

For ASU to make its third trip to the Rose Bowl, the Devils will have to play its toughest, most stern performance of the season on both lines and hold zero tolerance for special teams miscues and turnovers.

Momentum is on ASU's side. The crowd—despite a lack of native signage, pregame video packages and post-touchdown fireworks—will savagely be in the Devils' corner.

Arizona State football has redeemed itself this season for several years of frustrating mediocrity. In all, a win Saturday will finally and conclusively blare the alarm for "The Sleeping Giant" to rise from a slumber that has spanned over 15 years of football in Tempe.

Familiar Faces

Stanford's Devon Carrington (Chandler Hamilton High School), S Zach Hoffpauir (Peoria Centennial High School), LB Blake Martinez (Tucson Canyon del Oro High School), LB Trent Murphy (Phoenix Brophy Prep), WR Keanu Nelson (Tucson Sabino High School), OL Andrus Peat (Tempe Corona del Sol High School) and DE Alex Yazdi (Cave Creek Cactus Shadows High School) are all Arizona Natives.

Stanford WR Conner Crane and OL Cole Underwood attended Denton (Texas) Guyer High School, as did ASU WR Ellis Jefferson.

Stanford FB Ryan Hewitt attended Denver (Colo.) Mullen High School, as did ASU DL Junior Onyeali.

Stanford WR Francis Owusu attended Westlake (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School, as did ASU TE Chris Coyle and LB Carlos Mendoza.

Stanford WR/RB Kelsey Young attended Norco (Calif.) High School, as did ASU LB Carl Bradford and RB Deantre Lewis.


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