Many people are still talking about ASU football’s wild finish over Wisconsin last week, but another elite opponent awaits the No. 23 Sun Devils (2-0) on Saturday.
Seven days after beating the team that lost in the Rose Bowl last year, ASU will face No. 5 Stanford — the team that won the Rose Bowl last season — in both teams’ first conference test of the season.
Coach Todd Graham pointed out that Stanford (2-0) is the reigning conference champion, while ASU is now a contender.
“Those guys are used to being in close games and used to winning them,” Graham said. “That’s the only way you get to be champions. That’s the thing that we’re focused (on) with our guys that obviously we got to make sure we correct the mistakes that we’ve made.”
After facing Wisconsin, hardly anything in ASU’s game preparation will change this week, as Graham said Stanford is like Wisconsin but more talented.
Like the Badgers, the Cardinal run in a pro-style offense that’s mainly geared toward their running game. Senior running back Tyler Gaffney, who took a year off of football to pursue a professional baseball career, leads Stanford’s ground attack that averages 197.5 yards per game.
Redshirt junior linebacker Carl Bradford said attacking the Stanford offense early will be crucial for the Sun Devil defense.
“We have to focus on getting off on the ball and work on attacking the offensive line before they (get into rhythm),” Bradford said.
Stopping the run remains an emphasis this week, but that’s not all Graham is concerned about on defense.
He said he knows Stanford junior quarterback Kevin Hogan can throw the ball.
“Their quarterback is a very good player and he reminds me of Taylor Kelly — very accurate with the football — so we have to do a great job with stopping the run,” Graham said. “They are a run-play action pass football team, and I like what they do, but the difference is that Stanford is much more advanced in their passing game, and they are going to take what you give them.”
ASU only had 116 rushing yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry against Wisconsin.
Senior running back Marion Grice said if the Sun Devils want to move the ball and score, they must improve in the running game.
It seems easier said than done against a physical and defensively sound Cardinal team.
“We have to be more physical and establish more of the run,” Grice said.
ASU understands there is a lot more to this game than the usual matchup battles. For a Pac-12 contender that’s aching to finally reach the conference championship, the Sun Devils are approaching this game as a measuring stick against the reigning Pac-12 champion to see if they deserve to be in the same tier.
A close win over Wisconsin last week was a defining moment, but there is more ahead for the Sun Devils.
Graham’s focal point once again is making sure the Sun Devils don’t make mistakes. If they are in sync, he said they can win every game they play this season.
But ASU can’t shoot itself in the foot against what Graham called “the most fundamentally sound team” he’s ever faced.
Graham said Stanford, much like Wisconsin, knows its identity like championship teams tend to do.
“I think our team is starting to get that, and that is why I feel so good about this team and how they played, how they stuck together,” he said. “The reality is, any championship you ever win, you are going to play in a lot of close football games, and that is the reality. Not in just the next five weeks, but hopefully in the next 12 games we have to play.”
- ASU leads the all-time series over Stanford 18-11. The Cardinal won the last game in 2010 in Tempe, and the two haven’t played each other since due to the scheduling rotation between Pac-12 teams in opposite divisions.
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