First Down: Quick Hitters
Stanford @ Arizona State – September 6
Last Year: Arizona State 41, Stanford 3
Stats listed Opponent/Stanford/Pac-10 Average. All stats Pac-10 only to control for differences in out-of-conference schedule strength.
Yards Per Game: 385/297/382
Points Per Game: 30.4/16.4/26.7
Rushing Yards Per Game: 123/79/144
Yards Per Carry: 2.9/2.3/3.7
Passing Yards Per Game: 262/218/238
Yards Per Pass: 6.9/5.9/6.7
Returning Offensive Starters: 6/7/6
Yards Per Game: 375/473/382
Points Per Game: 23.4/31.1/26.7
Rushing Yards Per Game: 111/193/144
Yards Per Carry: 3.7/4.7/3.7
Passing Yards Per Game: 264/280/238
Yards Per Pass: 6.8/7.8/6.7
Returning Defensive Starters: 7/9/6.3
2007 Record: (10-3, 7-2)/(4-8, 3-6)
2008 Predicted Points Per Game: 27/23/26.4
2008 Predicted Points Allowed Per Game: 25/28/26.4
2008 Projected Record: (7-5, 5-4)/(3-9, 2-7)
2008 Projected Pac-10 Finish: 4th/9th
Statistically, Arizona State was pretty lucky to finish 7-2 in the conference, given their slim +10 yards per game edge. The yardage suggests 5-4 would have been more appropriate -- and indeed, Arizona State went 3-0 in games decided by under a touchdown, slipping past Washington State, UCLA and Arizona. This year, Rudy Carpenter and the passing game should again put up solid numbers, but the weak rushing yardage hints at troubles up front that only grow this season, given the loss of three starting offensive linemen. Especially against stronger defenses, the Devils risk being turned one-dimensional, and Stanford will need to shut down ASU's run game if it hopes to win in September.Defensively, Arizona State was a middle-of-the-road team Pac-10 team last year (yards being a better gauge than points), and will only improve given the return of most of their stars.
Second Down: Offense
The line is huge but inexperienced, while the skill positions are tiny but veteran. Still, there's more than enough talent for quarterback Rudy Carpenter to again put up great stats, and ASU could match its healthy 32 points per game from 2007.
Unquestionably, the strength of the offense, if not the entire team, is Carpenter. If there were fantasy college football to draw attention to statistical production, Carpenter would be a First Team All-American, and on the verge of being recognized as one of the best quarterbacks of the past decade, because his stats are simply phenomenal. He completed 68 percent of his passes with 17 TDs to two picks as a sophomore in 2006. While he came back to Earth last year, he still threw 25 TDs to 10 picks, with 62 percent accuracy and 3,202 yards. Jake Locker can scramble better, and Willie Tuitama and the Arizona offense return 10 starters, but the stats strongly suggest Carpenter is the best pure passer in the league, and there's no reason he shouldn't put up similar numbers his senior year.
Carpenter will be handing off and passing to plenty of familiar faces, as the ASU skill positions are stacked with returners. At running back, Ryan Torian is gone (568 yards last year), but the return of lightning-quick senior Keegan Herring (859 yards last year, 5'10" with listed 4.3 speed), junior Dimitri Nance (527 yards last year) and five-star true freshman Ryan Bass could give the Devils one of the best running back groups in the country.
ASU often goes tailback by committee, as the three backs with over 500 yards last year demonstrate. This year, the committee approach could prove a perfect blend of youth and experience that schools like West Virginia and USC have used to great effect in seasons past. However, with Herring and Nance each listed at 5'10" and Bass just a true freshman, the one question is how strong the Devils will be in short-yardage, goal-line situations.
Wide receiver is similarly deep, which is especially important in ASU's offense because of Carpenter's propensity to spread the ball. (Six receivers caught for over 200 yards last year, but only two caught for at least 500 yards and none for 850.) Be on the lookout for Mike Jones, the Devils' number one wideout who could find himself on All-American lists if ASU has a breakthrough season. Jones is the tallest starting receiver at 6'4", and tallied 769 receiving yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns last year. Like the running backs, junior receivers Chris McGaha (the clear-cut option 1A) and Kyle Williams are speedy but undersized, listed at 6'1" and 5'10" respectively. Tight end Dane Guthrie is also on the shorter side for his position, at "just" 6'3. He's more of a blocker than a receiver, and played some defensive end last year.
You can call Arizona State small in the backfield or at wideout, but certainly not up front. The line averages 6'4" and 325 pounds, one of the largest in the nation. However, while the rest of the offense features experience in spades, the line is rather green. First Team All-Pac-10 center Mike Pollak, a second-round draft choice, and Brandon Rodd, a three-year starter at left tackle, are two of the biggest losses. Just this past week, starting offensive tackle Richard Tiutu'u made matters worse by quitting the team as well. As it stands now, guards Paul Fanaika and Shawn Lauvao are the only returning starters.
At 6'6", 359, the right guard Fanaika is one of the biggest lineman I've ever seen, outweighing anyone on Stanford (or USC's) O line by nearly 60 pounds. He has been Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 two years running, and was a rare bright spot on the ASU line last year, as the 170 yards and 4.4-yard average in 2006 shrank to 137 yards and a 3.2-average, Arizona State's lowest since 2002. The Devils also allowed 55 sacks last year, dead-last in the Pac-10.
Thus, Stanford catches a major break by playing them early in the season (like the Card do with Oregon State), as it looks like ASU's line will need some time to gel. Stanford is going to be outmatched at the skill positions, but the defensive front seven is the Card's strength and is going to be facing Arizona State's biggest offensive liability all afternoon. Stanford's line has to like the way that matchup looks on paper. They need to rise to the occasion, dominating the line of scrimmage and creating havoc in the Arizona State backfield, to give their team any shot at a major upset.
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