There have been plenty of obstacles so far this season for the ASU football team.
The Sun Devils brought in 43 new players to start after losing core players from last year, then went through a head coaching change three weeks into the season followed by facing and losing to three top-25 teams in a row.
Now the Sun Devils sit at a record of 2-4, and after a bye week, they finally get a chance on Saturday against an opponent that seems to match them on paper, the Stanford Cardinal.
"The bye week gave our coaches a few extra days to plan for Stanford,” said interim head coach Shaun Aguano. "It was also a good chance for us to look back and see what we're good at, and how we're going to go and play the next half of the season."
Stanford, also 2-4, has had many of its own issues this season. The Cardinal have yet to win a conference game this season, and haven't bested a Pac-12 opponent since Oct. 2, 2021 when they pulled off an upset against the No. 3 team at the time, Oregon in overtime, 31-24.
However, the Cardinal snapped an 11-game losing streak to FBS teams last Saturday when they beat Notre Dame 16-14 in South Bend, Indiana.
"I don't know if satisfying is the right word to describe this win," but rather necessary or desired, said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "This football team has worked hard on a lot of things to give us a position to win."
Stanford and ASU are identical in nearly every team statistic. They average the same exact amount of points per game with 26.8 and are only half a point apart in points allowed with the Sun Devils sitting at 30.2, while the Cardinal has allowed 29.7. The number of yards both teams allow on defense only differ by 1.3 with ASU sitting at 408.5, while Stanford gives up 409.8.
Stanford also doesn't have any standout players. The only player who ranks in the top five in any major position is junior running back Casey Filkins, who barely cracks into the rankings for rushing yards with 430, only one more yard than the sixth-best player and 136 yards behind the fourth-best, ASU's graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay.
"They're a well-coached and fundamentally sound team," said fifth-year linebacker and co-captain Kyle Soelle. "They won't commit a lot of penalties and they've established the run game well, and are physical up front on defense."
The Cardinal played three top-25 nationally ranked Pac-12 opponents in a row this year, just like the Sun Devils, and lost to all of them by double digits. The Cardinal lost to Washington, 40-22 the team ASU defeated to bust its four-game losing streak nearly two weeks ago.
After redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones exited the game in the second quarter against the Huskies due to a head injury, redshirt junior backup quarterback Trenton Bourguet put on a clinic to secure the 45-38 upset win. After a win like that, fans expected a quarterback controversy.
However, Aguano made the decision earlier in the week to start Jones, and said he would never penalize an injured player. Preparation won't change leading up to Saturday, he said.
The Sun Devil offense is in good hands, especially with the run game. Valladay averages 94.3 yards per game and dismantled Washington with 111 yards and one touchdown.
"I trusted in my offensive line, I trusted the coaches, and I trusted the game plan," Valladay said after the game. "That was a big win for all of us, once you get smacked in the mouth so many times you gonna throw the first and last punch."
The Cardinal host the Sun Devils Saturday at 1 p.m. MST.
ASU enters the game as the 2.5-point underdog, despite its upset win over the Huskies. Next week, the Sun Devils fly to Colorado to take on the struggling Buffaloes that sitting 1-5 on the year.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Piper Hansen and Luke Chatham
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.