No. 7 Stanford may be experiencing a bit of déjà vu, because its current situation is eerily similar to last year.
For the second time in two years, the Cardinal (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) will be playing a team in the Pac-12 Championship game that they have already beat earlier in the season.
In 2012, Stanford beat UCLA in the final week of the regular season 35-17 and then beat the Bruins in the title game 27-24.
This year, the Cardinal find themselves in a similar situation.
Stanford coach David Shaw plans to approach the Cardinal’s second meeting with the Sun Devils as if it were a totally “new game.”
“We haven’t seen these guys in a long time,” Shaw said. “We have to treat it as a new team. It’s a new game. We’re a little different than we were earlier in the season. … This is just a new game and we’re excited to be in it.”
Stanford’s 42-28 beating of the Sun Devils back in September was more decisive than the score indicates. Stanford led 29-0 at halftime and 39-7 entering the fourth quarter before a late push from ASU gave the Cardinal a slight scare.
The fourth quarter push from ASU wasn’t so much Stanford doing anything wrong as much as the Sun Devils simply finding their stride.
“Any time a team ever comes back on you (people) say, ‘What’d you do wrong?’ Sometimes it’s they’re really good,” Shaw said. “We held them down for a half, and that’s great, but there’s no way you hold down a good team for that long.”
One thing that Shaw and the Cardinal won’t have to worry about holding down is ASU senior running back Marion Grice, who rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown and caught the ball six times for 32 yards and another touchdown in the first meeting. Grice is not expected to play Saturday because of a leg injury.
But don’t expect a change in the Stanford defense just because Grice isn’t in the lineup.
“Doesn’t affect it one bit,” Shaw said. “We know whoever they put at running back they’re going to be determined to run the ball also. For us its still schematic, it’s not personnel.”
The person that anchors that Stanford defense is redshirt senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy. A two-time first team all-Pac-12 selection, Murphy leads the country in sacks with 13 and is second in the conference in tackles for loss with 19.5.
Despite the impressive numbers, Murphy was passed over for the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Award in favor of ASU redshirt senior defensive tackle Will Sutton.
“I don’t know that anybody in our conference causes more problems than Trent Murphy,” Shaw said. “I would say that’s a little bit of a disappointment.”
At the end of the day, the Pac-12 Championship will feature two teams that have come a long way since their first meeting in late September.
“It should be a much better game from both sides,” said senior running back Tyler Gaffney. “Speaking for ourselves we’re doing things good right now, we’re executing. And ASU, they’re playing good ball. … It’s going to be a good Pac-12 Championship.”
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