ASU vs Stanford Match-Up

Two teams who are winless in Pac-10 play will square off in Tempe on Saturday, yet their fortunes are headed in opposite directions. Arizona State nearly took down USC on the road last week, while Stanford dropped a stinker at home to Arizona. DevilsDigest.com and TheBootleg.com unite to break down the offense, defense, special teams and overall outlooks on Saturday.

LAST WEEK:  Arizona State (3-3, 0-3 Pac10) lost to USC on the road 28-21.  The Sun Devils were down 21-0, but were able to tie the game in the third quarter.  A 14-play, 74-yard Trojan scoring drive, which gobbled up nearly seven minutes in the fourth quarter, ultimately tilted the game in favor of the hosts.

After struggling in the first two conference games, quarterback Rudy Carpenter had a better outing.  The sophomore completed 12-of-21 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.  ASU's ground game was more subdued compared to recent weeks.  JC transfer running back Ryan Torain gained just 57 yards on 20 carries, after eclipsing the century mark in the two games prior.  Junior tight end Zach Miller led all receivers with 36 yards on four catches.  The ASU defense played relatively well in light of some special team miscues that gave USC a short field to drive on.  The Trojans had only 307 yards of total offense, which was their lowest output in the last six years.

LAST WEEK:  In an 0-7 season, it is difficult for one loss to distinguish itself from the rest, but Stanford hit rock bottom in a 20-7 defeat at home against Arizona.  The Cardinal's apparently improved defense, which had made marked strides the previous two weeks in containing or stopping UCLA and Notre Dame, allowed the Wildcats to run wild with the ball.  Arizona had suffered three straight games with negative rushing yardage yet carried against the Cardinal for 220 yards, two touchdowns and better than four yards per tote.

The rush defense was overshadowed, however, by a record-low performance by the offense.  Stanford slumped to a new all-time low in school history with 52 net yards of offense (58 passing, -6 rushing).  It all started wrong when golden boy and fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards was injured on Stanford's third play, and the Card never recovered.  Stanford's lone points came on a scintillating 72-yard interception return by cornerback Wopamo Osaisai.

KEY INJURIES:  OL Brandon Rodd and CB Chris Baloney are out for the Stanford game. KEY INJURIES:  QB Trent Edwards (foot, out), QB T.C. Ostrander (knee, probable), WR Mark Bradford (foot, out), WR Evan Moore (foot, probable), WR Mike Miller (probable), FB Nick Frank (spine, out), TE Matt Traverso (out), OG Jon Cochran (staph infection, doubtful), C Tim Mattran (leg, out), S/CB Brandon Harrison (probable)
WHEN ARIZONA STATE IS ON OFFENSE:  With the recent struggles of Carpenter and the wideouts, along with Stanford's difficulty stopping the run, the ground game will be a prominent feature in the Devils' offense.  Look for the physical Ryan Torain and the shifty Keegan Herring to possibly get close to 40 carries between them.

Zach Miller has been instrumental in the success of ASU's running game, and is by far the squad's best wide receiver.  Junior Rudy Burgess was one of the better receivers thus far, but injuries at the cornerback position are forcing him to play there on Saturday, possibly exclusively.  Sophomore wide receiver Nate Kimbrough has been the most consistent wide receiver the last few weeks, and he could have some big numbers in Burgess' absence.

WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE:  The questions are limitless for this group.  The very first concern is redshirt junior quarterback T.C. Ostrander, who the last two years repeatedly relieved the battered and beaten Trent Edwards, but this game will be his first start since the 2004 season.  Ostrander had a terrible time last Saturday, completing four passes to the midpoint of the fourth quarter and taking his own back-alley beatings.  He also has a knee injury that by all rights should keep him from playing.  When healthy and mentally prepared, Ostrander is a talent with a big arm and playmaking instincts.

Stanford's wideouts have been decimated by injuries and played most of this season with only true freshmen or walk-ons.  The results have been predictably poor.  Redshirt junior and 6'7" weapon Evan Moore may play this week for the first time since a stress reaction took him out of the first quarter of the September 16 Navy game.  How effective he can be is the question that could separate Stanford from having an awful offensive day from a decent showing.  Moore is a threat in the red zone, can muscle off press coverage and is difficult to defeat in both short and deep patterns.  If Moore does not make a dent, ASU's talented corners should stuff Stanford's remaining receivers and enable a blowout for the home crowd.

Redshirt sophomore running back Anthony Kimble has quickness and slashing ability and is rotated with freshman Toby Gerhart, the power back who hits the hole and would-be tacklers hard.  They have had uneven success to date, and the day this offense clicks is the day they establish the ground game with the O-line.

WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL:  With the struggles of the Cardinal offense, it would stand to reason that ASU may blitz more than they normally do.  If they do have success in that department, look for senior rush end Kyle Caldwell and senior linebacker Derron Ware to have standout performances.  The possible return of 6'7" wideout Evan Moore for Stanford, could naturally pose a great challenge for the Sun Devils' secondary.  The maroon and gold may take their chances doubling on this taller-than-average wideout and see if the other Cardinal receivers can make them pay. WHEN ARIZONA STATE HAS THE BALL:  "Run, Forrest. Run!"  Let us not mistake Stanford for a defense with lock-down play in the secondary, but they have lately been respectable in downfield coverage.  More to the point, teams have rushed for mind-boggling numbers on the ground and not needed to risk lower percentage passing plays.  Arizona was the worst rushing team in the conference prior to last week yet gobbled up big chunks of yardage running.  Dirk Koetter will control his own offensive fate by his playcalling.  Stanford has moments where they have stopped inside running plays and gotten the defense off the field, but athletes can kill the Card in open space (i.e. outside plays or misdirections).

In Stanford's 3-4 defense, the linebackers are expected to make plays.  Their premier playmaker is senior inside linebacker Michael Okwo.  #55 has explosiveness and instincts that put him near the ball throughout the game.  Though he broke his hand in August, the one-armed Okwo has managed double-digit tackles in all five games he has played this year; now he can play with two hands.  The rest of the linebackers are young but promising, with two redshirt freshman starting at the outside positions: Clinton Snyder and Will Powers.

The defensive line does not have their names called often because they mostly open holes for the linebackers to make plays.  The three-man front with no seniors and many true and redshirt freshmen has had difficulty reaching quarterbacks, so expect Rudy Carpenter to have ample time unless linebackers blitz.  Two inexperienced corners, redshirt sophomore Wopamo Osaisai and redshirt junior Tim Sims, have broken out in the last few weeks and made surprising plays in coverage.  They are still green and should not yet be confused for all-conference players, however.  Stanford has three senior safeties who are experienced, sound and can tackle.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  ASU's punting woes of 2005 are thus far a thing of the past, thanks to solid play of JC transfer Jonathan Johnson, who averages 40.8 yards a punt.  Kicker Jesse Ainsworth is 3-of-6 on field goals this season, and hasn't made a field goal of 40 or more yards in a couple of years.  As always, the senior boots the majority of his kickoffs for touchbacks, but when he doesn't, the Sun Devils have been somewhat shaky in their kickoff coverage.

Senior Terry Richardson is arguably the Pac-10's best kick and punt returner, averaging 33.6 and 11.2 yards, respectively, in those categories.  He must however refrain from mishaps such as the one he had against USC.  In that instance, he let a punt hit him on the leg, which allowed the Trojans to recover deep in ASU territory en route to a score.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  For a number of weeks, this was an even greater weakness than the epically awful defense.  Stanford is without a scholarship placekicker for the first time in at least a couple decades, and it showed early in the season with crucial misses, including an extra point that was the difference on the scoreboard in the 35-34 loss at San Jose State.  Redshirt sophomore walk-on Aaron Zagory has manned those duties; he is 8-of-10 on PATs and 4-of-7 on field goals this season.  His long field goal is 34 yards and not one has yet been attempted outside of 40 yards.  Look for fourth down attempts by the offense where you might otherwise expect a field goal.

Another weakness has been Stanford's cellar-dwelling coverage teams for both kickoffs and punts. Osaisai is a speed demon and has helped both improve of late, particularly teaming with redshirt junior punter Jay Ottovegio. Ottovegio was expected to be an All-American candidate this year and has fallen short, though his 45.3-yard average last week was impressive.  Kickoff returns have been anemic at best this year, including a couple fumbles.  Stanford may put Osaisai back there at some point Saturday after making an impression with his hands and feet on last week's interception.

ARIZONA STATE CAN WIN IF:  The Sun Devils can come away victorious if their offense can once again limit its turnovers, and commit to its solid running game.  ASU's wide receivers will have to step up their game, especially in light of the aforementioned position move by Burgess.  ASU's defense was a sacking machine at the beginning of the season, and a dominating performance by their front seven can further demoralize an already distraught Cardinal offense riddled with injuries. STANFORD CAN WIN IF:  The ground opens up and swallows the Sun Devils during pregame warm-ups.  Gallows humor aside, the defense needs a little help from Koetter (which has happened the last three meetings), plus some of the playmaking they have shown in flashes the last three weeks.  The D will have the ball moved against them in some drives with great ease, but they are forcing more turnovers and making some stops of late.  Even a decent defensive performance will be marginalized, however, unless the offense gets on track.  Ostrander and Moore hold those keys in their hands, and if they connect for a big day, who knows what the Cardinal could do.  Ostrander will need to make much better decisions in the pocket, finding his receivers faster and getting rid of the ball rather than taking sacks.  He has sparked Stanford before and has plenty of ability to surprise on Saturday.  Still, this team needs breaks given their injury-riddled roster.  A win almost assuredly requires something big on special teams and a +2 or +3 day of turnovers.
ARIZONA STATE OUTLOOK:  To say that ASU is chomping at the bit to meet Stanford, and halt their slide of three consecutive Pac-10 losses, would be an understatement.  Their performance, albeit in a defeat, against USC has given the Sun Devils hope that they are possibly over the hump of less than average play during most of September.  One can expect a very fired up squad to show up at its school's Homecoming game. STANFORD OUTLOOK:  Bleak.  Losing to Arizona last week signaled a fast train to 0-12, and that's a dark place to live.  With season-ending injuries to almost all of Stanford's top talents on offense (Davey O'Brien candidate quarterback, best wide receiver, sensational fullback and best lineman) and the remaining cupboard painfully bare, this team has little reason for hope.  Improvements on defense and special teams - which had nowhere to go but up - have been mildly heartening but not yet inspiring.  It is an unfair burden on one man's shoulders, but the offense and this team can only get unlocked if Evan Moore makes a splash in his return the last part of this season.  Otherwise, bloodshot Cardinal eyes will have to focus on the approaching basketball seasons to avoid blindness.
Hod Rabino is the publisher for DevilsDigest.com Mike Eubanks is the publisher for TheBootleg.com and has been covering Cardinal sports since 1998.

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