Stanford rolls into Tempe this Saturday hoping that the momentum from a 63-26 pasting of San Jose State didn't dissipate during the bye week and won't evaporate in the hot sun as soon as the team arrives. I personally recommend that if the Stanford team can't beat the Devils on the field, they can always challenge them to an a cappella competition off the field – Marcus "Nightingale" McCutcheon and his football friends recently set ladies' hearts a-throbbing with a virtuoso performance at the freshman a cappella concert. They were truly outstanding. Arizona State should, however, be handled easily enough on football merits alone. The Sun Devils have been forced to play nine true freshmen this year, and the helium-inflated scores that they've racked up recently have not come against football powerhouses. Nevertheless, after entering their game with Eastern Washington on a 6-game losing streak (including a 48-10 pasting by then-#19 Nebraska to open the season), they have since reeled off three straight wins, and averaged over 40 points a game in the process. The blazing heat waves expected this weekend in Tempe will be a further obstacle for the Cardinal to overcome, and an added advantage for an ASU team that is silly enough to call the desert its home.
The surprising departure of Jeff Krohn, who threw for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns against Stanford in 2001, left a QB controversy this season that was settled only last week.
Chad Christensen emphatically lost his starting job against SDSU after earning his team's first first down with just two minutes remaining in the first quarter. Andrew Walter came off the bench in the second quarter, and threw 4 touchdown passes in the win (leading the Sun Devils back from a 22-0 deficit). Walter is 25-45 (55%) for 393 yards and 7 touchdowns on the year.
As a team, the Sun Devils have averaged just 328 yards of offense per game, with a surprisingly balanced breakdown of 143 rushing yards and 185 passing yards. However, we can probably expect more of an aerial display this weekend – with Koetter finally overcoming his bizarre fascination with Christiansen, the capable Walter will probably demand that the passing game pick up steam. Walter's tremendous arm strength ensures his ability to stretch the field, but he lacks the mobility to make the option a threat. Nevertheless, Walter has a good grasp of Koetter's spread offense, and we can expect him to hit his open receivers.
Shaun McDonald is ASU's premier wideout, and is expected to earn his second consecutive first-team All-Pac-10 honors this year. He has been electric thus far, boasting 21 catches for over 300 yards and 7 touchdowns. He averaged over 100 yards a game last season, tops in the Pac. Stanford may see the re-emergence of oft-injured Darryl Lightfoot as well, an open-field threat with both wheels and attitude.
ASU starts two freshmen on an offensive line that returns only one starter from last year's outstanding unit. Nevertheless, the Sun Devils have had some success running behind it, averaging 3.5 yards a carry. Such a number may not have much relevance in the game against Stanford, as Eastern Washington, Central Florida, and San Diego State certainly didn't present the most intimidating of defensive fronts. One factor in the success of the Sun Devil ground game has been Cornell Canidate (yes, Trung Canidate's younger brother), who has jumped from number 3 in the running back rotation to number 1 over the last two games. Weighing in at a shifty 190 lbs, the soft-spoken back averaged 5.7 yards a carry in last Saturday's game against SDSU. One note of mild interest – a new starter on the O-line this year is sophomore Drew Hodgdon, a Palo Alto native and Paly High graduate.
On to the D. Ranked 20th in the nation in total defense, the Sun Devils are led by 6'5" tackle Brian Montesanto, a 15-game starter at DE who was moved to tackle at the beginning of the year. He has nine tackles and a sack to his credit. The true goliath on the defensive line, however, is sack-machine Terrell Suggs. Standing 6'3" and weighing 242 lbs, Suggs is having an all-out feast in his junior year, with 8 sacks and 13 tackles to his credit. By contrast, Stanford as a team has just 3 sacks on the year. Suggs is the kind of end that can give Kirk and Kwame fits – while he has plenty of power, it's his speed and quickness around the edges that make him one of the premier pass rushers in the nation. The Stanford O-line's ability to keep him out of Chris Lewis' face (and midriff) could be an important determinant of this game's outcome. Fortunately, however, Suggs is facing off against two of the best bookends in the country, and with veteran Greg Schindler back in the trenches, this shouldn't turn into a sack-heavy repeat of the BC game.
The defensive backfield is more of a question mark. 5'10" sophomore safety Riccardo Stewart has 3 sacks and 18 unassisted tackles, and looked like a man among boys against Nebraska in ASU's season opener. The cornerback slot has been ravaged by injuries, with Lamar Baker and Emmanuel Franklin lost for the season. However, sophomore phenom R.J. Oliver is having a terrific year in the backfield, and leads the team in both interceptions and media fanfare. One interesting note – Koetter has decided to move 6'2" safety Brett Hudson to cornerback to lock down 6'6" Teyo Johnson. Hudson was a first-team All-American DB in junior college, and he may have just the combination of size and speed to avoid getting brutalized off the line of scrimmage and to keep up with Teyo as he makes his cuts. This will be one of the key match-ups of the game.