Stanford Preview

Arizona State lost just four games in 2013, but two of those defeats came at the hands of Stanford. In some aspects, the two squads who will meet Saturday night in Tempe do not resemble last year’s teams. The Sun Devils hope that the end result will be different as well. Devils Digest’s Joe Healey examines ASU’s next opponent.

Stanford Offensive Personnel

One of the greater enigmas in the Pac-12 Conference, despite helping guide Stanford to back-to-back Rose Bowls, quarterback Kevin Hogan rarely is discussed among the better half of the league’s quarterbacks.

A player with the generic “game manager” stamp regularly applied to a quarterback of a team with superior ground attack and defensive prowess, Hogan has thrown for 1,325 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in six games while completing 65.5% of his pass attempts. Hogan also leads Stanford with three rushing touchdowns and has 67 net rush yards to his credit thus far in 2014.

Hogan can take advantage of openings but rarely will be a player to single-handedly defeat an opponent, though Arizona State’s defensive lapses this season can create abnormal productivity from a veteran such as Hogan.

Perhaps the most significant difference in this year’s Stanford squad is the lack of an individually prominent running back to follow the steps of Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, a trio that helped Stanford have a 1,000-yard rusher from 2008-13 with single-season marks over 1,300 yards in four of those six seasons.

With Gaffney and capable reserve Anthony Wilkerson gone from the Stanford team ASU saw last season, Stanford has opted for more of a committee rush attack as Remound Wright, Barry Sanders, Jr., and Kelsey Young have split carries in the team’s first six games.

Though nowhere near the par established by the All-America caliber efforts of the three aforementioned rushers of recent years, the three Cardinal runners this year have collectively performed fairly well as the trio has rushed for 679 yards on an average of nearly six yards-per-carry, but the team as a whole runs with abnormally limited results as Stanford ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing. The three runners have also mustered only two touchdowns—both by Wright—creating a much less intimidating rush presence than what has been seen from Stanford in the Harbaugh and Shaw years.

Despite a drop of dynamic appeal in the backfield, Stanford boasts one of the nation’s most electric all-purpose athletes in wide receiver Ty Montgomery, a Second-Team All-Pac-12 receiver and First-Team All-Pac-12 returns specialist a year ago.

Montgomery hurt ASU in nearly every aspect last season, catching three touchdown passes and rushing for a score in the two games against the Sun Devils. This season, Montgomery has overall numbers of 37 receptions for 359 yards with three touchdowns and the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder can defeat Devil defenders through a multitude of weapons from his arsenal.

Stanford will be without one of its primary receiving targets this Saturday as Devon Cajuste, owner of 18 catches for 243 yards with three scores, will be sidelined due to injury.

Cajuste’s absence is notable not just due to his value to the Cardinal but his history against the Sun Devils, as in the league finale last year he tallied 120 yards on merely a pair of receptions while leading the Cardinal with 67 yards on three receptions in the two teams’ September meeting.

Also banged up but expected to play are Stanford’s third and fourth-leading receivers, tight end Austin Hooper (16-202-1) and receiver Michael Rector (9-171-1). In Cajuste’s absence, expect players such as Jeff Trojan (8-47) and dynamic true freshman Christian McCaffrey (6-119-1) to step up in the pass game for the Cardinal.

A definitive element of Stanford football, the Cardinal offensive line experienced a widespread changing of the guard (and tackle and center) in 2014 after mass departures from the 2013 lineup.

Last year, four Cardinal linemen took home First or Second-Team All-Pac-12 recognition with the fifth usual starter claiming Honorable Mention accolades, however only Tempe native Andrus Peat returns from that group.

One of the nation’s premier linemen, Peat starts at left tackle with Joshua Garnett at left guard and Graham Shuler at center, while Johnny Caspers starts at right guard and Kyle Murphy at right tackle.

In addition to Stanford’s atypically average run game, the Cardinal, a team usually absolutely dominant in quarterback protection, rank 75th in the nation and seventh in the Pac-12 by allowing 2.17 sacks per game.

Stanford Offensive Summary

A team that ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (26.3 ppg.), if you remove the 45-0 season opening win over FCS member UC-Davis, the Stanford has averaged fewer than 23 points per game in FBS action this year.

Aside from an uncharacteristically basic run game, Stanford has earned widespread notoriety for its red zone futility as Stanford ranks 118th of 125 FBS teams by converting only 67.9% of its red zone attempts – worst in the Pac-12.

With Montgomery as the only legitimate, available threat on offense, and a line that is much more mortal than what we have recently seen from Stanford, the Devils can succeed if ASU’s defense can clamp down and avoid the mental mistakes that have surfaced throughout the year.

ASU has, however, been susceptible to defensive breakdowns – especially in the run game – an aspect that can make Stanford’s otherwise unspectacular running backs resemble their stellar predecessors if the Devils are unable to tighten their defensive screws.

Stanford Defensive Personnel

Stanford’s typical 3-4 defensive alignment features David Parry up front at tackle between Henry Anderson and plausibly Blake Lueders at defensive end. Aziz Shittu is listed as a starter in the team’s depth chart this week but suffered a serious injury likely to keep him out far beyond Saturdays’ game.

Among linemen, Anderson, an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 member last year, is the statistical leader with 23 total tackles including 3.5 for loss with 2.0 sacks. Parry also has 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks to his credit among his 16 overall tackles, while Lueders has notched nine tackles including 2.0 for loss.

Shittu’s presence will be missed as he had submitted solid numbers of 13 tackles including 1.5 for loss with 1.0 sack in five games.

Tucson native Blake Martinez and A.J. Tarpley form an excellent group of inside linebackers with Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters as the starters at outside linebacker.

On the year, Martinez leads Stanford with 46 tackles, while Tarpley, an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 member in 2013, is not far behind with 41 including 4.0 for loss with 2.0 sacks. Anderson ranks second on the team with 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, while standing tied for fourth on the team with 27 total tackles. Vaughters has registered 23 tackles including 4.0 for loss so far this season.

Peter Kalamabayi, listed as the top reserve at both outside linebacker positions, leads the Cardinal with 5.5 tackles for loss including 4.5 sacks among his 17 total tackles.

In the secondary, Stanford features stellar experience and talent at cornerback with Alex Carter, Wayne Lyons and Ronnie Harris.

An Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 pick last year, Carter leads the cornerbacks group in tackles (20), while adding three pass breakups. Lyons also has a trio of pass breakups and 14 total tackles, while Harris has nine tackles to his name thus far.

Starting strong safety Jordan Richards, an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2013, is one of the nation’s premier defensive backs while Zach Hoffpauir, an athlete ASU recruited heavily out of nearby Peoria Centennial High School, has really come into his own as a reliable starter at free safety.

Through six games, Richards ranks third on the team with 35 tackles including 2.5 for loss and also has two forced fumbles, while Hoffpauir has an admirable overall stat line with 27 tackles including 3.0 for loss with a team-high four pass breakups.

Stanford Defensive Summary

Though First-Team All-Pac-12 members Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds are gone from last year’s team, the results have remained dominant as the Cardinal defense remains in the national top-10 in numerous key defensive categories including scoring defense, total defense and rush and pass defense.

Generally speaking, there is no easy way out with Stanford’s defense on the field. ASU’s offensive line—which generally has performed well—has its work cut out for it against the Cardinal defensive front, while the secondary is equally dynamic and must be accounted for when launching the ball downfield.

ASU’s drastic dip in run game production from its first three games to the last two will be hard pressed to hit the upswing against the Devils’ most difficult defensive foe to date, but Arizona State must find some semblance of balance if it wishes to be offensively explosive against the Cardinal.

Stanford Special Teams Summary

It’s likely that no individual player for Stanford should have his name circled in Cardinal red as boldly as Ty Montgomery, an All-Pac-12 receiver but, perhaps more challenging for Arizona State, a nationally elite special teams returns threat.

A First-Team All-American kick returner by numerous outlets in 2013, in two games against ASU last season, Montgomery averaged 28.0 yards on five kick returns and has the skill set to break any run the distance. This year, Montgomery is the Pac-12’s leader in both kick and punt return average, also ranking sixth nationally with a 21.6-yard average on punt returns and ninth in the nation with a 29.1-yard average on kickoff returns.

With nightmares of Ishmael Adams and Nelson Agholor undoubtedly making Todd Graham and special teams coach Keith Patterson toss-and-turn at night, Montgomery provides yet another legitimately fearsome presence that ASU must find some way to mitigate to avoid game-altering breakdowns on special teams coverage.

In the kick game, however, Stanford is much less intimidating as kicker Jordan Williamson has connected on just 6-of-11 attempts with three of his five misses coming from 26, 37 and 37 yards, further adding to Stanford’s red zone woes.

Punter Ben Rhyne averages just 38.3 yards on his 26 punts, giving Stanford the league’s lowest gross punting average and the second-lowest net average in the Pac-12 Conference.

Final Analysis

A series in which ASU gained a solid advantage a decade ago – the Sun Devils won five of seven meetings from 2002-08—Arizona State has dropped four consecutive clashes with the Cardinal including the two defeats in 2013.

Stanford truly is a tale a two sides of the ball – the Cardinal offense can put many fans to sleep, while its defense is liable to knock opponents out cold. The style of play the Stanford has employed during the Harbaugh and Shaw regimes has proven to be a thorn ASU simply cannot pluck from its side, as the brute strength on both sides has presented a challenge the Devils have been unable to answer.

Saturday’s meeting could be different – or it could not be different. Though that statement is far from expert analysis worthy of a subscription to this site, the truth of the matter is that this matchup with Stanford is one that feasibly could produce an outcome either very similar to or very different from what occurred in last year’s two meetings.

Unlike last season, Stanford’s offense is devoid of one single dominant rusher and an offensive line man-for-man readymade for the NFL. Of course, the Cardinal’s backfield stable and blockers up front are collectively very good and capable of holding their own, the intimidation levels runners such as Gerhart, Taylor and Gaffney and the long list of future pro linemen created the past several years is not as clearly present in 2014.

Defensively, however, though the names are generally different, the results are the same as Stanford has simply shut down foe after foe and has the pieces in place to make life very difficult for ASU’s “High Octane” attack.

Arizona State absolutely must avoid the shell-shocking start it suffered last season versus Stanford, as in the two meetings ASU was collectively outscored 57-14 in the first halves. Not did those figures prove to be insurmountable numbers on the scoreboard, but the tone and physicality established in those games by Stanford took ASU completely out of its comfort zone.

Offensively, the Devils will have to find some measure of balance as it’s unlikely the pass game can shoulder such a disproportionate workload as it did at USC – easier said than done as the Sun Devils rushed for a grand total of 188 yards in two games against the Cardinal in 2013. In the two games started by Mike Bercovici, 86% of ASU’s 1,167 yards of total offense have come through the air – a rate that will be tough to duplicate and create a Sun Devil win Saturday.

ASU’s defense and special teams undoubtedly will go a long, long way in determining the outcome Saturday – shocking and unprecedented to read, I know. Stanford’s less-than-thrilling offense is one that does not possess a great deal of firepower and has the added blow of Cajuste’s unavailability for Saturday. However, ASU has been gashed on the ground by nearly every opponent this year, a feature Stanford can certainly exploit.

Additionally, every maroon clad fan in the building will be aware of Ty Montgomery’s presence on special teams, as Sun Devil supporters how that somehow, someway a stopgap solution can be found and avoid yet another touchdown return on punts and kickoffs.

Ultimately, if ASU can create some type of early offensive momentum and avoid cataclysmic lapses on defense and special teams, the Devils can remain competitive and pull off what would have to be considered a sizeable upset despite the higher poll rankings enjoyed in the here-and-now by Arizona State over Stanford.

Familiar Faces

• Stanford OL A.T. Hall and LS C.J. Keller are Arizona natives and attended Phoenix Brophy Prep, as did ASU WR Frederick Gammage, K Alex Garoutte and DB Marcus Mehlhaf-Brown.

• Stanford S Zach Hoffpauir is an Arizona native and attended Peoria Centennial High School.

• Stanford LB Blake Martinez is an Arizona native and attended Tucson Canyon del Oro High School.

• Stanford OL Andrus Peat is an Arizona native and attended Tempe Corona del Sol High School.

• Stanford OL Casey Tucker is an Arizona native and attended Chandler Hamilton High School, as did ASU DL Jaxon Hood and OL Christian Westerman.

• Stanford LB Lane Veach is an Arizona native and attended Gilbert Perry High School, as did ASU DL Mo Latu. Veach’s father, Scott, lettered in football at ASU from 1987-89 and was an Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 tight end for the Sun Devils in 1989 and his mother, Shannon, played basketball at ASU from 1988-92.

• Stanford DL Alex Yazdi is an Arizona native and attended Cave Creek Cactus Shadows High School.

• Stanford WR Francis Owusu attended Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School, as did ASU LB Carlos Mendoza.

• Stanford DE Solomon Thomas attended Coppell (Texas) High School, as did ASU WR Cameron Smith.

• Stanford RB Kelsey Young attended Norco (Calif.) High School, as did ASU RB Deantre Lewis.


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