First off, what the heck happened in the final 20 seconds at Sun Devil Stadium late Saturday night? In all seriousness, that ending is a nominee for the most bizarre one in college football history. It's interesting to analyze a team's mood after a win like that. Do Arizona State's players and coaches feel like they got away with one?
There is no doubt that the ending of that game was beyond weird. It was a combination of a quarterback (Joel Stave) who decides that it's his duty to place the ball for the next play, which really is the catalyst to all of the madness that ensued, and a nonchalant officiating crew who inexplicably decided to relinquish control of the game in its last 18 seconds, that caused mass confusion.
Publicly, no one from ASU's side believes they got away with a win. Privately, they probably acknowledge that the strange chain of events helped them secure the victory. I personally don't think this that game represented a good performance by ASU, with a lot of inconsistencies presenting themselves on both sides of the ball. Nonetheless, that game was the best of both worlds. It presented a valuable list of items to correct but also ended as a win over a Top 25 team.
Stanford has been able to run at will against both of its first two opponents, particularly with Tyler Gaffney. Arizona State represents a significantly greater challenge in the trenches, especially with Will Sutton anchoring the defensive line. Do the Sun Devils have the firepower to disrupt the Cardinal up front?
I think they do. I realize that the rushing numbers Wisconsin put up last Saturday aren't flattering as they collected 231 yards averaging 7.2 yards per rush. Yet, these numbers are vastly skewed by one 80-yard rushing touchdown. Fact of the matter is that ASU won the time of possession battle and had 32 first downs versus 15 by Wisconsin.
All in all, ASU has thus far showed that its run defensive capabilities have improved from last year. I'm not expecting them to shut down Stanford's ground attack, but I also feel that they won't constantly be run over by the Cardinal ball carriers.
I noticed Taylor Kelly drop in several pretty back shoulder throws down the stretch against Wisconsin. Some of those passes seemed almost impossible to cover. Where is he at in his development as a quarterback?
Those passes have manifested his improved arm strength and footwork. He was already a proven accurate passer from last year, but as far as being a deft signal caller who can pepper the field with passes to various targets and to tight spaces, that was an aspect we didn't always witness in 2012. Granted, ASU has better wide receivers this season, namely JC transfer Jaelen Strong and players such as him naturally make the quarterback look good. So while Kelly's improvement is noticeable, a higher caliber of aerial targets is definitely helping his cause.
How confident is Arizona State that its offensive line will be able to hold Stanford's ferocious pass rush at bay? How much time does Kelly need in the pocket to be effective?
The ASU offensive line was one of the better units during fall camp, and so far in this young season they have built on that momentum and their pass blocking capabilities were solid against a formidable Wisconsin front seven. ASU's high tempo offense naturally lends itself to very short drops and quick releases, which in theory should negate sack opportunities for the opposition.
What has been the Sun Devils' greatest strength so far? Their biggest weakness?
ASU's passing game is ranked eighth in the country (ironically just fourth in the Pac-12) with over 358 yards a game and one can only wonder how much higher that ranking would be if not for a handful of dropped passes against Wisconsin. ASU's pass defense, which is 19th in the nation, has also shown very well.
I don't think that ASU's rushing attack (85th in the country) or pass rush (1.0 sack a game) are necessarily weaknesses, but they are certainly two aspects I'm sure the staff felt that would be better after two games. With a true freshman at kicker and a newcomer walk-on at punter, special teams are a worrisome area thus far.
Which ASU offensive player poses the biggest match-up problem for Stanford?
Jaelen Strong, who I mentioned earlier, has been quite the challenge for secondaries to contain. Granted, he will be facing a better unit this week and his stats could decline but just his mere presence out there can open the field for a formidable receiving tight end in Chris Coyle as well as a running game which has a stable of talented ball carriers.
Stanford hasn't seen Arizona State in two years. What will be the most shocking difference about the Sun Devils that the Cardinal will notice?
Too easy of a question to answer as Stanford has never faced a Todd Graham-led ASU team. First and foremost, they will see a much more disciplined squad both penalty-wise and also in executions of their assignments. The offense will be much higher tempo than before with greater emphasis on running the ball. On defense, you will see a very aggressive and opportunistic group than in years past that has the ability to pass rush at a high level and penetrate the backfield.
These two teams were tops nationally in sacks and tackles for loss last year. Who records more of each in this game?
This is an area which I mentioned as perhaps not a weakness for ASU but one that has underperformed, and I don't know if Stanford is the ideal rebounding scenario for this aspect. So I will have to go with Stanford here.
What's your predicted outcome?
Stanford will present different challenges for Arizona State than Wisconsin did. While the rushing and run defense abilities should be fairly similar to those of the Badgers, there is no doubt that the Sun Devils will face a much better passing attack and a higher caliber secondary than they did last week. ASU is obviously traveling to a stadium where Stanford has normally done a very good job protecting its home field advantage, and that us another element to contend with.
I think ASU will at time see some success on both sides of the ball, but I do believe that ultimately Stanford will present too many challenges for the visitors to overcome.
Stanford wins 26-20.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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