Lombardi's Look Back: Arizona State

Devon Cajuste can block and he can catch

Stanford's dominant 42-28 win over Arizona State has legitimized much of the preseason hype surrounding the Cardinal. After a thorough review of game film, here's some of what The Bootleg noticed about the Farm Boys' performance.

A few days after the storm, I've had my chance to review game film of Stanford's 42-28 victory over Arizona State.

"Arizona State is so unsettled, plays that they would normally make, they aren't making now," FOX analyst Charles Davis exclaimed at one point.

Davis, by the way, truly did his homework preparing for the game. Like Stanford, he came ready Saturday. It's rare when a national analyst can immediately identify and correctly analyze the role of a little-known player like Rollins Stallworth. But Davis was on top of his game when the junior walk-on, who's long been a scout team stud, nearly hauled in a third quarter touchdown fade from Kevin Hogan. He correctly pointed out that Stanford hopes to develop Stallworth's athleticism into a red zone asset.

The Cardinal's stable of weapons grew only more diverse in Saturday's well-oiled, dominant showing (through three quarters). Here are some essential nuggets that shouldn't fall by the wayside as Stanford turns its attention to Washington State.

  • It must be noted that Stanford Stadium's natural grass surface, which was completely replaced last year after the muddy debacle of November 2011, absorbed Saturday's downpours well. Sunshine owned the afternoon by kickoff, but driving downpours dominated the day preceding it. The field held up well.

  • The staff has not been shy about its desire for Ty Montgomery to become a Chris Owusu-like threat on special teams, and that plan is coming to fruition. It took one pad-popping block from Jackson Cummings to spring Montgomery loose down the right sideline for a 50-yard return to open the game and set the tone for the Cardinal.

  • Speaking of Cummings, Saturday was a significant day in the development of Stanford's running backs. David Shaw had spoken of a "running back by committee" approach throughout the offseason, but quite frankly, we'd seen only The Tyler Gaffney Show through two weeks. Just minutes after Cummings' big block to open the game, Remound Wright made his earliest career appearance on Stanford's first drive. Gaffney again led Stanford with 97 yards on 19 carries, but no runner was impressive than Anthony Wilkerson on Saturday. He ran violently, was almost impossible to take down on first contact, and reached the edge against a fast Arizona State defense for a second quarter touchdown (after breaking a tackle).

  • Shaw noted that the Arizona State match-up would be a measuring stick for new Stanford center Khalil Wilkes, and a casual review of the film indicates the fifth-year senior passed the test with flying colors. The Sun Devils featured a pair of fire hydrants in the middle of the defensive line. On one notable occasion, Wilkes, who put on about 10 pounds of strength over the offseason, pushed Sutton back several yards to help open a hole for Wilkerson. If there was any unease about Stanford's offensive line, it should be assuaged now.

  • As former KZSU broadcaster and current Seattle television personality Aaron Levine noted, ASU coach Todd Graham needs to get a normal headset. The skinny microphone that runs from his mouth to his ear hole makes him look like a televangelist on the sideline.

  • Stanford entered the game having converted on 69 percent of their third downs. Saturday's performance wasn't quite as excellent (7-of-15), but the Cardinal are still moving the chains 61 percent of the time this season. That's good for fifth in the nation. Last season, the Farm Boys finished only 38 percent on third down (45 percent after Hogan took over). Andrew Luck's best season saw a nation-best 57 percent conversion rate.

  • Montgomery's 17-yard bubble screen touchdown to open the scoring came on third down and 10. Arizona State gave him an 11-yard cushion at the line of scrimmage. That's simply something a defense can no longer do against No. 7. Right tackle Cam Fleming angled out to complement Devon Cajuste's great block with one of his own, and thanks to the cushion, Montgomery had a full head of steam to cut by the defense to paydirt. Of course, this space was there because he's already proven that he can beat teams over the top. Montgomery's become a real quandary for defenses. Based on the film of Saturday's game, he'll be facing an uptick in double teams soon.

  • We know that Derek Mason loves to shift his players around on defense. Trent Murphy is his "Joker." No. 93 is technically an outside linebacker, but he'll line up anywhere within the front seven. Josh Mauro's early interception came after Murphy lined up over center and collapsed the Arizona State pocket on top of Taylor Kelly. James Vaughters, who is playing absolutely dominant football, delivered the pressure that made the ASU quarterback panic.

  • It seems that Shayne Skov is less noticeable in the Stanford defense than he was in 2010 simply because the talent surrounding him is so much better than it was back then. Watching No. 11 closely, though, reveals the same clinic that he put on three seasons ago. In the first half, he timed his blitz perfectly and shot through the gap just to the right of Arizona State's center, forcing the right guard to commit holding. He's a master of the well-timed missile strike. Just flash back to South Bend in 2010.

  • Arizona State's punter is a walk-on from Scottsdale Community College. He wasn't good. In fact, his best kick might have been his illegal boot out of the end zone that prevented a Pat Skov touchdown and caused a safety instead. The Cardinal enjoyed excellent starting field position near or past midfield even when they didn't block a punt. The particularly bad news for the Sun Devils: Their alternate punter, the quarterback Kelly, was worse than than the walk-on. Ben Gardner didn't need to raise his hands to block Kelly's quick kick.

  • On the flipside, Stanford's Ben Rhyne has been quietly solid for the Cardinal. His first half floater, which Usua Amanam actually caught on the fly inside the ASU five yard line, was an example of perfect punting execution.

  • ASU was vulnerable on the edges against Wisconsin last week, so Kelsey Young's 33-yard fly sweep on Stanford's early 90-yard touchdown drive was a very necessary part of the gameplan. Hogan faked a handoff to Ryan Hewitt before pitching to the sprinting Young, who enjoyed a long stretch of daylight thanks to Cajuste's lockdown blocking effort on the left side (what's new?). Just a couple plays later, Stanford faked a fly sweep to Young. Instead of blocking this time, Cajuste hauled in a diving 34-yard reception to set up the Cardinal's second score of the game. Stanford's creativity had dazed the Sun Devils into forgetting that No. 89 can run and catch, too. In the future, look for Shaw to call for a reverse off Young's fly sweep. They actually faked one to Gaffney on the initial 33-yard gain Saturday.

  • Andrus Peat's athleticism has never been on better display than it was following Robert Nelson's third quarter interception of Kevin Hogan. The six-foot-seven, 318-pound left tackle forced a cornerback out of bounds in space. Impressive.

  • Mike Tyson once said that "everyone has a gameplan until they're punched in the face." This truth was applicable Saturday, as Arizona State simply did not have the physical prowess to keep pace with Stanford. At one point in the second quarter, Joe Hemschoot and Aziz Shittu teamed with Gardner to terrorize Kelly in the backfield. Those two guys are Cardinal defensive reserves, yet they still physically overwhelmed the Sun Devils. On the other side of the ball, Stanford had enough explosiveness to make ASU pay whenever the Fork over-committed against the run: Hogan threw some real frozen ropes over the middle of the field.

  • There's obviously concern about the way Stanford finished this game, and rightfully so. The Cardinal led the contest by 32 points in the fourth quarter, yet they needed an athletic Jeff Trojan onside kick recovery to dodge a truly massive late collapse. That should never happen, especially after such a dominant three-quarter performance. Afterward, Shaw declared that he "would not apologize for winning," but the guess here is that, behind closed doors, the Cardinal's coaching staff realizes it went to its reserves and an overly conservative scheme far too early. Stanford's plan did not allow Evan Crower to succeed: The Cardinal had him hand the ball off six times in a row against an ASU defense that was stacked to defend the run. Stanford underestimated the Sun Devils' ability and desire to come back in the fourth quarter, but they learned a valuable lesson the easy way: through a win.

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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