ASU: View from the Press Box

How in the world does Stanford post 45 points in a Pac-10 football game? The Cardinal are an improving squad, and you had to be in Stanford Stadium on Saturday to see the outstanding work on offense, defense and special teams against the Sun Devils. If you were not on hand to see the 45-35 victory, you will want to get inside the action with this game log.

2:00 – Senior cornerback T.J. Rushing and redshirt junior Marcus McCutcheon stack one behind the other for the opening kickoff return, before splitting to their sides at the last second.  Perhaps Stanford designed the stack so that Arizona State cannot purposefully kick away from stud returner Rushing.  The stack is all for naught though, as Arizona State kicks short to Nick Frank, and Stanford starts at their own 32.

2:01 – After a redshirt freshman running back Anthony Kimble rush gets stuffed for a loss of two, an off-sides penalty on Arizona State defensive tackle DeWayne Hollyfield turns a 2nd & 12 into a 2nd & 7.  Hollyfield hits himself in the helmet in anger after the jump – I love seeing players that fired up.

2:02 – Redshirt junior quarterback Trent Edwards has time on the first throw of the game, and fires a bit high, but complete for a 12-yard first down to junior wide receiver Mark Bradford.

2:03 – Kimble runs for four yards on first down and another four on second down – a slightly quicker back might have squirmed for an extra few yards on the second down run to move the chains.  That extra burst would have been mighty useful, as a false start on redshirt freshman guard Alex Fletcher pushed the Card into 3rd & 7, and a Jeremy Payton blindside sack of Trent Edwards ends the drive.

2:07 – Beautiful blocking lanes open for Sun Devil running back Rudy Burgess on a nine-yard first down off-tackle run.  Uh oh – Arizona State Dirk Koetter specifically mentioned he liked his zone rushing scheme's chances against Stanford's base 3-4 defense.

2:09 – Keller fires low on second down; fifth-year senior nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo stuffs Burgess up the middle on 3rd & 1; and on fourth down, Udeme Udofia blocks Arizona State's punt and Jon Alston recovers at the ASU 15.  Arizona State used the same three-deep protection that Oregon used when Jon Alston blocked and recovered a punt for a touchdown in the fourth-quarter of the Duck debacle.

2:10 – Kimble puts Stanford on the board first on a bit of a fluky play: Edwards' pass is again high, and AK-26 (just remember that nickname started here) does a great job to get a hand on the ball and prevent a would-be interception.  Kimble actually manages to tip the ball to himself, and because the ASU defenders were playing for an interception and not for the tackle, Kimble finds a hole and squirms through for a touchdown.  The play appeared to be going nowhere, but the extra second or two the ball floated in the air after Kimble's tip also caused Arizona State's defenders to overpursue the play.

2:17 – Redshirt sophomore cornerback Nick Sanchez is burned by Devil receiver Terry Richardson on a sideline fly route.  Richardson stretches horizontally and gets both hands on the ball, but cannot reel it in.  The play is only the Sun Devil's second pass of the game.  Clearly, Koetter's game plan is not to attack a questionable secondary, but instead try to run over the Cardinal.

2:17 – Fifth-year senior linebacker Jon Alston appears to take a poor angle and give Sun Devil #1 receiver Derek Hagan too much space underneath.  Hagan rumbles for 16 yards and another Sun Devil first down at Stanford's 34.

2:20 – Two unreal cuts by running back Preston Jones allows the back to fit through holes not much bigger than he.  A Sanchez tackle at the two-yard line prevents a would-be Sun Devil touchdown on an incredible run.  Nothing against the Cardinal backs, but I do not think anyone on Stanford's roster could have made one hole, let alone both.

2:21 – It takes the Sun Devils three tries, but Sam Keller's quarterback sneak from the one-yard line eventually does the trick, and the Sun Devils tie the contest at 7-7.  With 58 rushing yards to this point, Arizona State indeed views the run as plans A, B and C on that drive. The Devils frequently brought stud sophomore tight end Zach Miller in motion pre-snap – running from his tight end position to behind the quarterback.  Miller would then reverse, and often make it back to about the guard by the snap – when he would then block a Stanford linebacker rushing a gap.  If we can see it in the press box, the Cardinal coaching staff can certainly see it on the sideline, so an interesting plot turn will be to see how the Card respond to the Sun Devils' zone rushing scheme.

2:28 – On 2nd & 10 at midfield on the ensuing drive, Edwards reads through his progression, finds no one open, and then comes back to Bradford and fires at the junior, but high.  The throw could have been picked off, but Bradford makes a leaping over-the-head catch for a first down.

2:28 – Bradford had a bead on corner R.J. Oliver on the fade, but the throw is a bit too short, allowing Oliver to break it up.

2:30 – The coaches saw something they liked, as they call upon #4 down the far (right) sideline, again matched up against Oliver.  Despite defensive pass interference and double-coverage, Bradford somehow goes up and comes down with the ball.

2:31 – Too often, fans criticize refs for poor spots, but on Stanford's 1st & Goal rush from the seven-yard line, Kimble was tackled at the six.  The official accurately marked off Kimble's forward progress, and Stanford's second down now comes from the four.

2:32 – On 2nd & Goal, Edwards again turns to Bradford for a fade.  The L.A. native gets both hands on the ball, but at the last second, cornerback Walter White gets one hand on the ball to tip it away.  Despite the incompletion, the call was brilliant by Walt Harris.  If something works, too few coaches are aggressive enough to keep calling it, but when coaches do, it often works again.  For example, Oregon found success repeatedly throwing deep sideline routes against the Stanford secondary early in the September contest, even on consecutive plays.  Here Bradford appears to have an edge on Oliver – and Harris is not afraid to exploit it.

2:32 – Not to take anything away from one of the best college quarterbacks I have seen in person (and that includes guys named Greise, Henson, Brady and Leinart), as the Card may well be winless without him, but one flaw Trent Edwards does display is a tendency to fire high when pressured, as he just did 3rd & Goal.  Just this contest, Edwards has already thrown too tall three times by my count.  A huge breakdown for the Devils, though, as Stanford picks up an automatic first down on a roughing the passer call (plus a defensive holding call as a fallback).  That the refs take time to conference on the play also gives Edwards time to recover from the blow to his head.

2:34 – Great job by Kimble to dive and reach his arms out for a touchdown on the ensuing 1st & Goal.  ASU is a penalty-prone team, and that habit cost the Sun Devils four points there.  Stanford now leads 14-7.

2:35 – Sun Devils middle linebacker Dale Robinson was injured on the Kimble run – Robinson is a key defensive player in the Devil scheme, and his absence will be a major story line.  He walks off the field of his own ability.

2:42 – As the second quarter starts, a screen to Bradford looks to be going nowhere, but Bradford stiff arms and advances nine yards.  Bradford is really coming into his own this game, and the Cardinal desperately need him today.  Since when did a Stanford skill position player have an advantage over his defenders?

2:43 – Who would have thought after the Davis loss that Stanford would stand here today needing only three wins for a bowl game, and leading in the second quarter against a consensus preseason Top 25 team.  The score is no fluke either, as the Cardinal are outgaining the Devils significantly at this point.

2:47 – After the teams trade punts, ASU starts at the 29 with 12:34 to go in the first half.  The refs appeared to miss a block in back of Kris Bonifas on Richardson's punt return.

2:48 – A Miller reception turns into a first down when the Stanford secondary can't get off their blocks.

2:48 – Babatunde Oshinowo is living up to the hype, notching a six-yard sack on 2nd & 8.  He appears to be in the Sun Devils' center's head, and, sure enough, on 3rd down his pressure forces Keller to throw incomplete in Hagan's direction.  Oshinowo simply did not allow Hagan enough time to run his hook route - how can Arizona State adjust to account for his presence?

2:49 – After the Sun Devils punt rolls to 14, this time is as good as any for a couple of game-flow notes.  Arizona State still has not taken many shots downfield, which I do not understand considering Hagan's and Miller's talent advantage over the defenders who guard them.  Stanford, meanwhile, has turned one-dimensional, netting only one rushing yard to complement 103 through the air.

2:52 – Edwards has time and goes through his progression, only to find everyone covered.  Neither development is all that unexpected against a Sun Devils defense that has started to sell out against the run, only loading six in the box one play and dropping all the linebackers into coverage the next.  Edwards eventually fires incomplete to a double-covered Bradford (hey, it did work before).  Why would Edwards not scramble at all on the play?

2:52 – Second down, and Trent Edwards read my brainwaves.  He has a hole but Hollyfield closes it up for a loss of three.  Jeff Edwards is in at right tackle on this series.

2:54 – On third down, Edwards backs up to his own goal line before firing to Gerren Crochet for a Cardinal first down at the 35.  Edwards' arm strength and Crochet's speed both proved essential in moving the sticks.

2:55 – A dangerous-looking pass, Edwards stares the defense right, fires right, and somehow completes a dart to Crochet between three Devil defenders.

2:56 – Edwards scrambles for nine to pick up a first down at ASU's 41.  (Overheard in the press box: "So there's Stanford's running game.")  ASU is putting only six defenders in the box, which should make passing against the squad a lot harder.  Thus, Edwards' scrambling ability, which should force ASU to adjust defensively, can be seen as a key to keeping the offense moving the sticks in more ways than one.

2: 58 – On 2nd & 10, all the Sun Devils linebackers drop into coverage, but they do not reach redshirt sophomore tight end Michael Horgan quickly enough.  Horgan rumbles for nine yards down the sideline before being shoved out.

2:58 – Edwards play actions and fires deep on 3rd & 1 from the ASU 32-yard line.  The throw is a little short and has too much air under it, giving ASU's cornerback ample time to either catch up to Mark Bradford, or turn around and locate the pass.  However, Josh Golden does neither, and can only flail his arm as Bradford reels in his second score.  Harris again displays his intuitive grasp of the effect of down and distance on smart playcalling.  Before third down (and that is the key, as many coaches do not seem to realize until just before fourth down) Harris recognized that the field position dictated a fourth-down attempt should Stanford fail on third.  The coach also realized the Devils would likely be playing to stuff a short run, and a play-action thus had a high likelihood of success.  Any Booties have thoughts on whether Stanford's old coach would have understood the same situation just as thoroughly?  Stanford leads 21-7 with 6:16 until halftime.

3:01 – Fifth-year senior kicker (and fellow Michigan native) Michael Sgroi's kickoff sails out the back of the end zone.  Sgroi quietly has two touchbacks already.

3:02 – This is a key drive for Arizona State.  A score before the half would go a long ways in reversing the momentum, and would allow the Devils to enter the locker room within a score.  I would look for them to run on this critical drive – can Stanford stuff it?

3:03 - Keller's first-down pass is complete to Miller for five yards.  On second down, however, the Devils try to run Herring outside like he had before with success.  Demonstrating great adjustment both schematic and personal levels, Stanford stuffs it.  Then, an Arizona State false start pushes the visitors into 3rd & 9 – this squad is shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.  On third down, T.J. Rushing just manages to trip up Burgess three yards short of the marker, so that false start effectively ended the drive.

3:05 – Jon Alston almost gets to Arizona State's punt again, and though we will never know for sure, I would wager his pressure made Devil punter Chris MacDonald rush a kick that sailed only 34 yards.  The Devils split seven on the line of scrimmage, and then have three additional blockers about five yards behind the line as the punter's "personal protectors."  I never understood this scheme, as the returning team's linemen enjoy a running start at the protectors, and only need to drive the protectors back a couple of yards to wreak serious havoc.  I guess the benefit from the scheme is that it allows for better downfield coverage on the return, but the downfield coverage really is superfluous when teams do not get off the punt to begin with. Indeed, just today, Stanford has already managed one block and one almost-block in this manner.

3:06 – Senior tailback J.R. Lemon enters, rushing for gains of three and four.  I like the call, as a score before the half would be huge, and AK-26 and redshirt sophomore running back Jason Evans have not been able to do much thus far.  In fact, Lemon's seven yards top the five Stanford had netted on the ground previous to this series.  Edwards is harassed on third down, and though he escapes a couple rushers off the defensive line, he is eventually sacked by Zach Catanese.

3:08 – Miller drops a first-down pass over the middle.  Especially down by two touchdowns with just 2:23 remaining in the half, the Devils' decision not to test the Cardinal corners one-on-one has to be in part due to Keller's injury and/or the practice time he missed due to the injury.

3:09 – Instead, Arizona State runs to the outside on second down, a play Stanford has stuffed since the opening drive.  Here, senior defensive end Julian Jenkins yields only three yards on the play.

3:10 – Fifth-year senior cornerback Calvin Armstrong makes a nice tackle of the powerful Hagan on third down, tripping up the receiver just short off the marker, and forcing a Devils punt, which has to have the Stanford faithful salivating.

3:12 – Sure enough, Stanford again gets to the kick.  This time, fifth-year senior outside linebacker Michael Craven partially deflects the ball, which then travels only 16 yards to the Devil 36.

3:13 – Bradford elevates for his second touchdown of the half, tying his career record for single-game touchdowns.  Great 31-yard pass this time from Edwards, as the ball hit Bradford perfectly in stride.  The Devils did catch a bad break as their corner appeared to stumble a bit on the play, but on the whole Arizona State is simply not adjusting, while Stanford is making that coaching staff look awfully silly.  The cornerbacks are not turning on pass plays (who would have thought ASU's corners would be the ones getting tested and beat), yet Koetter continues to leave them on islands in man coverage.  Meanwhile, Stanford's secondary remains relatively untested, though one figures that will change in the 2nd half with the Devils trailing by three touchdowns.  Arizona State has not adjusted after being stuffed on outside runs and cannot seem to find a way to stop Babatunde Oshinowo; oh yeah, those punts are a calamity.

3:17 – Overheard in the press box: "Maybe Ted Leland submitted his resignation a little too early."  The fourth estate is on its game today.

3:19 – Oshinowo explodes for yet another sack, and Arizona State now must punt out of 4th & 33.

3:22 – The rugby punt, as MacDonald rolls away from the Stanford pressure and attempts to kick on the run.  Folks, that is harder than it looks, and MacDonald finds that out the hard way, shanking the punt out of bounds after running past the line of scrimmage, resulting in a five-yard loss of down penalty and wiping away the punt entirely.  Somebody will be hiring a new special teams coordinator this week.  Stanford now has 10 seconds from the 18-yard line, which is only enough time for one end zone shot before a field goal attempt, in my opinion.  I would run the fade to Bradford – make Arizona State stop it without interfering.

3:26 – Finally, the Devils display some decent coaching, calling a timeout after Stanford brings out their offense, presumably to adjust to what Stanford showed.  Out of the timeout, Stanford shows a different formation that features Bradford as the slot receiver in motion pre-snap.  He catches an Edwards bullet underneath and squirms down to three, but cannot quite get in the end zone.

3:28 – Sgroi hammers through the short field goal and Stanford declines a roughing the kicker call – which would have given them one shot from the 1.5 yard line.  Stanford runs off to the locker room to a standing ovation.  Though silent, the Devils' mere body language resonates just as loudly.  At halftime: Stanford 31, ASU 7.

3:31 – A few passing halftime statistical thoughts (pun intended): Stanford's 247 passing yards appears well-positioned to crack Top 10 all-time, while Edwards' three TD passes and Bradford's two touchdown catches each tie career highs.

3:51 – As the second half kicks off, one major question is how much do the Devils abandon the run and throw deep to their receivers.  They need to adjust in the heart of the line to give their quarterback more time to do so.  For Stanford, does the play calling continue to be aggressive, marked by downfield passes?  Defensively, the Card's top priority must be on denying big plays.  With a 24-point lead, the defense does not need to stop the Devils outright as much as simply make them drain clock on their way to the end zone.

3:54 – The Devils find three consecutive pass completions in the early second half.  A second-down run wide goes nowhere, though, as Stanford has done a great job to shut down Arizona State's bread and butter.

3:55 – The visitors face an interesting call on 4th & 5 from the Stanford 34.  I think they have to go for it...  The Sun Devils agree, but redshirt junior linebacker Mike Silva picks up Stanford's fifth sack of game – all this without Michael Okwo having yet entered game, to the best of my knowledge.  Arizona State started the drive hot, and had potential for a major momentum shift, but Stanford rebounded and held.

3:58 – An incidental facemask on an Evans run results in a 1st & 2, and Evans picks up the first down on a subsequent run.  I cannot argue with the first down here, but I hope the Cardinal do not shell up offensively.  It will be interesting to watch how low Stanford drains the play clock in this second half.

4:01 – What was the worry about Stanford shelling up offensively?  Crochet pops for 22 yards on a reverse, sprung by great downfield blocking by three Cardinal, including Trent Edwards.  Crochet was gone for the score, but tripped over redshirt junior center Tim Mattran.  Stanford now faces a 1st & goal from the Sun Devils eight-yard line with under 25 minutes to play.

4:04 – A touchdown comes off a Nick Frank toss sweep right on 2nd & Goal from the three.  Stanford better stop scoring or else people might notice, especially with undefeated UCLA on tap.  Redshirt freshman quarterback Rudy Carpenter, in for an ineffective Keller, will have to try to rally the Devils.

4:06 – The last time Stanford won at least three straight was a four-game streak against Arizona State, California, Notre Dame and San Jose State in 2001.  The last time Stanford won three straight conference games in the same season was in September of 1999 against Washington State, Arizona and UCLA.  Behind the play of a similarly feisty quarterback, that team made it all the way to the Rose Bowl.

4:09 – And the fat lady sings in the form of a Mike Silva interception returned for a touchdown.  Carpenter was the quarterback on the pass, and the freshman seemingly threw right to Silva.  Inexperience cost Arizona State dearly there.  Stanford's 45-7 lead with 7:53 to play in the third is a bit misleading, as the Cardinal still haven't hit 300 yards offensively.

4:14 – Junior strong safety Brandon Harrison produces a highlight reel tackle of Zach Miller, flat out popping him.  Michael Okwo has also entered the game.

4:16 – Brandon Harrison stays on the ground after a Devils play.  In comes redshirt junior Trevor Hooper, as Harrison runs off the field of his own power.

4:18 – Okwo almost snags an interception on a tipped ball thrown behind Zach Miller.  Okwo runs off gingerly after the play.

4:19 – ASU appears to have given up hope of winning.  The squad is running the ball a lot, and not seeming to hurry.  Players' hands are on their hips, and their faces remain downturned.

4:20 – The drive ends in an 18-yard touchdown screen right pass to Burgess, and the score now stands Stanford 45, Arizona State 14.  However, even if Arizona State were to score a touchdown on every remaining drive at a similar rate, they would not win.  The 12-play 4:33 drive simply took too long.  Stanford's "O" just needs to keep the clock moving and close out their third straight contest without a turnover.

4:23 – After leaving in the first quarter with injury, Dale Robinson is back in the game and tackles Nick Frank after a four-yard gain.

4:24 – Time to try to make the rushing stats look respectable – Jason Evans picks up seven and another first down, and then Frank busts up the middle for another two.  Most of the runs today have gone A gap (center-guard), with a few B gap (guard tackle) and very few off-tackle.  Further, save for the reverse to Crochet for 22 yards, Stanford has only 29 ground yards on the day.  Future opponents will sell out against the run, making it difficult for Stanford to pass with success.

4:28 – Redshirt junior Jay Ottovegio busts a 56-yard punt!  Richardson has to catch the ball over his shoulder, and the backwards momentum allows him to net only five on the return.

4:31 – Worth mentioning for Booties not in attendance is the new red trim running the perimeter of the field, save for in between the 25s.  Looks nice.

4:32 – After Sanchez whiffs tackling Zach Miller on first down, allowing the screen to go for 14, Rushing makes a nice play to swat the ball away after ASU receiver Matt Miller bobbles the initial reception.

4:35 – On one of the first downfield passes I can recall of longer than 15 yards, Richardson has two yards on Rushing and the ball arrives on the money.  The score is probably too little too late now (though fans who endured Teevens era are surely crapping their collective pants).  Where was that downfield attack the whole game for ASU?  One theory is that Carpenter been taking most of first-team snaps the last two weeks because of Keller's thumb injury to his throwing (right) hand, so Keller was either not strong or prepared enough for downfield duty.

4:48 – After a Stanford punt, a Julian Jenkins sack gives Arizona State 2nd & 15 from their seven-yard line and, more importantly, keeps the clock running.  On second down, Jenkins and Hooper tackle Keegan Herring in bounds, and the clock ticks under 8:30 prior to the 3rd down snap.

4:49 – Frustration showing for the Sun Devils.  After Moey Mutz is shoved out of bounds by Sanchez following a 12-yard reception, Mutz shoved Sanchez after the play for an obvious 15-yarder.  The Devils face 1st & 25 from their 15 before a false start backs them up to the 10.  Overheard in the press box, re: the false start: "It must just be too loud for them in here."

4:51 – Maybe the 31,711 fans in attendance are not the loudest, but Oshinowo keeps bringing the noise himself, here taking down Herring at the 5.  The defense has to be thinking safety or force a punt from that end zone.

4:53 – Doesn't matter for this week, but the defense will have plenty to work on in future weeks after allowing a shovel pass to Burgess to go for precisely 17 yards on a 3rd & 17.

4:54 – That front seven is living up to the hype as the strength of the team, as fifth-year senior outside linebacker Timi Wusu posts another tackle.

4:54 – The big hitter award again goes to Brandon Harrison, who picks up Hagan and literally tosses him four yards back as means of a tackle.  After popping the bulky tight end Miller to the ground, Harrison's strength is obvious.

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