After ASU lost to Stanford on Sept. 21, redshirt sophomore receiver Jaelen Strong made a prediction.
Strong, filled with conviction, told the media the Sun Devils would see the Cardinal again this season.
His premonition will come true Saturday night when the No. 7 Cardinal (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) travel to Tempe for the Pac-12 Championship game vs. No. 11 ASU (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12).
Strong admitted his prophecy was based solely on his confidence in his team and not an overriding feeling of post-loss ambition.
“I just knew how hard we would work to get back to this point,” Strong said.
Strong and the Sun Devils haven’t lost a conference game since, setting up the school’s most important game in recent memory.
If Saturday goes anything like the first meeting – the Sun Devils trailed 29-0 at halftime – all will be lost, though.
No Pac-12 title, no more winning streak, no more Rose Bowl aspirations.
“At that time they were ranked No. 5 in the nation and I didn’t understand how powerful they were until we played them,” Strong said. “They were pretty good and on the road to the national championship.”
Strong said he’s looked to the Stanford loss, in which he caught 12 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown, as fuel for Saturday’s game.
“I actually played horrible,” Strong said. “There were a lot of things I grew out of and matured from, so hopefully I go out there and I’ll be more productive for my team.”
Strong has been extremely productive all season, earning Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors in light of his 1067-yard, seven-touchdown season.
The Sun Devils will need an all-conference performance from Strong, who has shown the ability to catch the deep ball recently, to knock off the Cardinal.
Strong’s 61-yard touchdown catch against UA last Saturday was his second longest of the season.
“I can’t operate outside the system,” Strong said. “I have to do what the coaches tell me to do. They’ve been giving me an opportunity and giving me a shot to make plays.”
Playing at Sun Devil Stadium, where the Sun Devils are undefeated this season, will also be a nice change for Strong.
“It’s like a cheat code,” Strong said. “Those guys scream and yell every down until the clock reaches zero. That will be a big part for us, a big advantage.”
If everything comes together Saturday night for Strong and the Sun Devils, no more predictions will be needed.
The Sun Devils will be smelling roses.
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