After a surprising performance, ASU football handed the Oregon Ducks (3-1, 0-1) their first loss of the season. The Sun Devils (2-2, 1-0) head to California with the most momentum they have had all season to battle it out with the Stanford Cardinal (2-2, 1-1).
Stop the Love
ASU has had the unlikely predicament of facing two of the FBS’ top five rushers in No. 2 Rashaad Penny and No. 5 Royce Freeman.
This week, it does not get any easier for the Sun Devils as they take on the challenge of slowing down the No. 1 running back in the FBS.
Through four games, Stanford’s junior tailback Bryce Love is averaging 10.8 yards per carry – not to mention his 787 rush yards on the year.
Stanford’s offensive linemen do a phenomenal job of getting to the second level of defenders, forcing opposing linebackers to constantly shed blocks.
Once Love finds a seam, it gets pretty ugly for the defense. His ability to break tackles and completely outrun defenders is among the best in Division I football.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will have his hands full adjusting to one of the best backs ASU will face all year.
“(Love) presses the hole – he’s a lot like a smaller version of the (Rashaad) Penny kid,” Bennett said. "He’s probably the fastest back we played.”
Triplets need to take over
Arguably the biggest surprise of the season thus far is the play of redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins.
Wilkins has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions with the help of a plethora of wide outs, especially an emerging trio.
Sophomore wide receiver N’Keal Harry was expected to lead the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns, but his domination is surely taking fans by surprise.
Following Harry as the team’s most consistent wide outs are redshirt junior Jalen Harvey and sophomore Kyle Williams.
Both have more than 15 receptions and 220 receiving yards on the year.
All three have the potential for a field day against a Cardinal secondary, which just gave up 480 passing yards to UCLA.
Despite the recent success of the trio, every pass catcher has to make their presence felt.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Tommy Hudson, who is better known for his run blocking, said he believes a fast and efficient offense will give ASU the win.
“We’re a tempo team,” Hudson said. “We gotta make sure we’re playing fast and doing things the right way and not just going out there and playing sloppy football, making sure we’re executing and not shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Feed the beast
Despite ASU’s win over Oregon, there are still questions regarding the quality of the defensive backfield.
Although the secondary may have holes, the pass-rushing unit does not. Yes, senior devil backer Koron Crump is set to sit out again with a leg injury, but ASU still has the fourth most sacks in the FBS.
This week the Sun Devils will need to continue their push upfront as they face a Cardinal offensive line, which gives up an average of two sacks per game.
Senior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood is one of several players who stepped up against Oregon. The dominance shown by the front seven will need to translate from Oregon to Stanford if ASU wants to win.
“We were physical up front,” Smallwood said. “We dominated the line of scrimmage, we did a good job getting there on our blitzes and we executed, and I mean we didn’t do everything right, but guys played hard and guys wanted it.”
If ASU can shake the already unsteady quarterback play of the Cardinal, the Sun Devils could upset another Pac-12 opponent. Coming into this week, ASU is again pegged as the underdog, but this definitely feels like a game the Sun Devils can win.
The predictions below come from The State Press football reporters: Anthony Totri, Mark Harris and Joe Jacquez. The number next to the reporter is their record in predicting the winner each week.
Anthony Totri (1-3): Stanford beats ASU 31-27
Mark Harris (2-2): Stanford beats ASU 34-28
Joe Jacquez (2-2): Stanford beats ASU 35-27