Emulate Wisconsin's Running Success
If there was a glaring weakness in Arizona State's performance last week against the Badgers, it was the Sun Devils' rushing defense. Wisconsin gashed the Fork for 231 yards on 32 carries (7.2 yards per). The Badgers used Melvin Gordon in every which way, sending him between the tackles and to the perimeter in their successful quest to flummox Arizona State.
Like Wisconsin, Stanford has a massive offensive line and a handful of athletes who have the ability to give Arizona State a dose of deja vu. The Sun Devils are stocky and physical up front (see Will Sutton: 6-foot-1, 305 pounds), so plowing mindlessly up the middle likely won't work. But a creative mix of Tyler Gaffney and his counterparts should do the trick for Stanford. Maybe this is the game the Cardinal has been waiting for to finally unleash Kelsey Young, whose sideline-to-sideline speed can certainly help the Farm Boys emulate Wisconsin's ground attack.
David Shaw has talked about Arizona State's propensity to bring "every blitz known to man." A successful running attack is the best way to put the Sun Devils on their heels and defuse such pressure. That formula worked last week for the Badgers: Arizona State recorded only one sack after finishing second in the nation (behind Stanford) in that category last season. An effective ground game will allow the Cardinal to control the tempo of this game, a necessity considering the fact the Sun Devils ran 93 plays last week.
Party More Than Them
If you're familiar with college reputations, you may be aware that it's impossible to party more than the Sun Devils -- unless that competition is taking place in the backfield. Even there, it's a stiff challenge: Only one team in the nation averaged more tackles for loss per game than Stanford in 2012, and that team was Arizona State.
The Cardinal and Sun Devils finished one-two nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss last season. The team that racks up more of each on Saturday will have the upper hand. Arizona State hasn't run particularly effectively (2.8 yards per carry versus Wisconsin), so their offensive explosiveness has come primarily through quarterback Taylor Kelly. He played excellent football down the stretch last week, delivering a number of perfect back shoulder fade passes to his talented targets, one of which is six-foot-three junior college transfer Jaelen Strong (6 catches, 104 yards).
Stanford's pass rush must reach Kelly to prevent him from establishing a downfield rhythm. Conversely, Arizona State's blitzes must corral Kevin Hogan so that Stanford cannot loosen up the box with downfield throws. It'll be fascinating to see which team has more success bringing heat considering the fact that both clubs specialize in terrorizing the backfield.
Get Up To Speed With Big-Game Intensity
Arizona State has already benefited from the chance to play a high-adrenaline game against a quality opponent. Wisconsin's formidable attack sharpened the Sun Devils' pitchforks ahead of their trip to play another bruising opponent. Meanwhile, Stanford has started its season playing physically inferior competition. San Jose State and Army both did some things well, but neither of those opponents was close to matching the Cardinal in the muscle department.
Arizona State does not feature Stanford's height, but they do possess the quickness and width to threaten the Cardinal. As a result, there's little margin for error: Shaw's squad must immediately match the big game intensity that the Sun Devils will carry over from their showdown last week. Stanford committed only one penalty (Tyler Gaffney's offensive facemask) at Army. While that figure is impressive, the Cardinal must translate that game's disciplined approach to this contest versus bigger, faster players.
Don't Center The Ball With Under 20 Seconds Remaining And No Timeouts
Wisconsin should have taught Stanford a valuable lesson last week: How To Not Beat Arizona State.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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