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Stanford football back and forth: Arizona State

(Courtesy of Joshua Nacion/The State Press)

In advance of Saturday’s football game between Stanford and Arizona State, The Daily’s Do-Hyoung Park chatted with The State Press’s lead football writer, Joshua Nacion, to get perspectives from both camps. Below is the full transcript of their conversation.

Do-Hyoung Park (DP):

First of all, thanks so much for taking time out of your evening to do this; we really appreciate it. Before anything else, congratulations on the win against Wisconsin on Saturday. Although there was some sloppy play on both sides and the controversy at the end, a win is a win. How does the team feel about that right now?

(Courtesy of Joshua Nacion/The State Press)
Joshua Nacion is the lead football writer for The State Press, the student newspaper of Arizona State University. (Courtesy of Joshua Nacion/The State Press)

Joshua Nacion (JN):

I knew that was going to be the first thing that was going to be addressed!

After the game on Saturday, ASU felt really good about the win even though it took a crazy play for the Sun Devils to win the game. As for the Fumblegate, the players were just being told what they’ve been told all through training camp—to jump on the ball when in doubt. The biggest issue ASU took away from the game was that it kept shooting itself in the foot — not just in the final drive but in several earlier instances, whether it was dropped passes or bad coaching. Todd Graham was in a great mood in Monday’s press conference, so ASU is all focused for this week’s game at Stanford.

DP:

And moving forward from that game, it must have helped that you faced Wisconsin — a team very similar to Stanford in its approaches on both sides of the ball — before you travel up to the Bay Area to take on the Cardinal on Saturday. Do you expect that the Sun Devils will be better prepared to face Stanford’s physical attack on both sides of the ball after having faced essentially the same thing from the Badgers and having maybe oiled out some of the kinks last weekend?

JN:

I think ASU will be. We asked Graham about it in today’s press conference and he said that Stanford and Wisconsin are very similar in philosophies and how the Cardinal is put together, only Stanford is a more talented team. Like you said, ASU still has some kinks — particularly in run blocking — but it worked out well in that the Sun Devils practically used Wisconsin as a scout team for Stanford.

DP:

Stanford isn’t really a team that lights up the scoreboard and a lot of us are expecting this to be a physical, hard-fought and close game. What do you think ASU will have to do in particular to find that edge on top of the battle this weekend?

JN:

ASU definitely has to control the tempo and use its offense. The Sun Devils have enough offensive weapons to score any way they want to, but things can really fall apart if the Sun Devils don’t have a rhythm to their game. Defensively, ASU loves to live by the “bend-and-don’t-break” mentality and it just needs to stop giving up the game-changing plays.

DP:

Regarding the offense — I know ASU had high expectations for Marion Grice and DJ Foster out of the backfield during the preseason but they haven’t really produced the explosiveness or game-changing plays as of yet that the team has hoped for. With that in mind and coming up against one of the best rush defenses in the country at Stanford, do you think that it will be more up to Taylor Kelly to establish the passing game early and often to try and control the tempo?

JN:

That was the case in the game against Wisconsin, and that’s what ASU might do again against Stanford. Despite not having those breakout plays, ASU turned to Kelly and his arm. It was a question coming into the season, but the receiving corps this year is actually better than it was last season. A better receiving corps spreads out the field more and keeps the defense guessing. Grice and Foster have been quiet, but they’ll be lethal again once opposing defenses stop focusing their entire attention on the backfield.

DP:

In your opinion, what will be the most important matchup this Saturday between the two teams?

JN:

The battle in the trenches on both sides. Stanford has a clear advantage and ASU is a little bit undersized on both, but the Sun Devils did slightly better than some expected against Wisconsin. The running game will be vital for both teams and that will all come down to whose offensive/defensive lines dominate more.

DP:

Also, just a note: if you have any questions as well, you can ask them at any time too.

JN:

I have a few for the end but I’m thinking for stuff during the middle of the conversation.

DP:

Sounds good.

In terms of your expectations for the game, how do you expect the game to pan out with regards to the battles in the trenches and the running games, then?

JN:

Out of all of the games the Sun Devils play this season, this is the one game in which I’m the least confident in the Sun Devils’ chances of winning. ASU still had a lot of self-imposed mistakes and with a far talented Stanford team, the Sun Devils could be exposed even more. ASU may have the speed advantage and it may help the Sun Devils make it a closer game, but I just can’t see how ASU can overcome those aspects.

What are your expectations?

DP:

Arizona State is easily on a different level from Stanford’s early foes in San Jose State and Army, and I think that this will be a lot closer of a game than many are expecting. Even if ASU doesn’t establish the running game to its satisfaction, I think that having a quarterback that thrives on the short-to-mid range passes like Taylor Kelly will help the Sun Devil offense drive downfield methodically and maybe even control the tempo to a greater degree. We saw a lot of that against San Jose State in our season opener — David Fales just took what the defense gave him and threw a lot of underneath passes to keep drives alive and eat chunks of yardage and clock throughout the game. Stanford’s defense did stand tall in the red zone, but I feel like a more disciplined and physical Arizona State offense will be a trickier assignment. Couple that with the fact that Stanford is trying to establish more of a deep passing game in the early goings of the season—which cuts down on its clock control—and with Hogan’s accuracy issues that might not work out as well, especially with pressure from [defensive tackle Will] Sutton and company coming on the passing downs. In the end, I do think that Arizona State has been prone to a lot of the self-imposed mistakes that you mentioned, though, and I think it will ultimately come down to the fact that the big, physical Stanford front seven will bring a lot of pressure on Kelly and force him into more of those errors. I think Stanford pulls it out, but not by more than two scores.

JN:

You mentioned it a little bit with San Jose [State], but what was the biggest thing you took away from the first two games?

DP:

I feel like one thing that’s really caught my eye is a new dimension in our offense in that we’re really starting to use our wide receivers as deep threats downfield. Last year, Hogan rarely used his wide receivers to take shots downfield and instead piloted “Stanford-like” drives that were rush-oriented, more methodical and clock-controlling. But this year, Hogan’s playbook is expanding and the play-calling is getting more aggressive. Our scoring drives are getting quicker and the wide receivers have emerged as legitimate threats.

On the defensive side, I think our defense has work to do in terms of stopping drives. They’ve done very well in terms of not giving up the big plays, but in both games we’ve played so far — against David Fales and San Jose State’s passing offense and Army’s triple option — opposing offenses were able to keep drives alive and drive downfield consistently. Our front seven couldn’t keep up with Army’s speed and couldn’t get off blocks in the way that we saw in the second half of last season. I don’t think the defense is in mid-season form yet.

I’d like to pose the same question to you; what was your biggest takeaway from your first two games?

JN:

Biggest thing I took away from ASU’s first two games is that it’s going to be a lot harder for teams to beat the Sun Devils if the Sun Devils are not shooting themselves in the foot. ASU looked almost flawless against Sacramento State by having one measly false-start penalty when backup quarterback Michael Eubank was subbed in and didn’t commit a single turnover. ASU had two turnovers against Wisconsin, three false-start penalties and a delay-of-game flag, which is still not bad compared to previous seasons. The defense also has yet to commit a single penalty itself. We’re seeing a much more disciplined ASU football program under Todd Graham and it will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils can keep it up with Stanford, USC and Notre Dame next.

What do you have as a final score for the game?

DP:

I’m going to go ahead and say Stanford 27, ASU 17. The Sun Devils will keep it close throughout, but Stanford’s improved offense and the pressure to Taylor Kelly will keep the Sun Devils from pulling ahead.

What do you think?

JN:

I’ll say 30-24. I think Stanford will probably jump out to a big lead to start but ASU will orchestrate a rally to try and come back, but ASU falls short. I like this ASU team much better than last year’s edition, but I think we’ll see some mistakes repeat from last year, especially on the road against the No. 5 team in the nation.

DP:

As a final thought, how do you feel about the Pac-12 South and ASU’s place in it this season?

JN:

I think that ASU should be right there with UCLA, especially now that USC has sputtered to start the season and probably won’t rebound in time for Sept. 28’s matchup in Tempe. The Sun Devils look great on paper, but it’s a matter of whether they can endure through the tough schedule they have and avoid situations where they end up losing the game instead of letting the other team win it. I won’t make a prediction and say ASU will win the Pac-12 South, but I really do like the Sun Devils’ chances of clinching the division this year. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were two games between ASU and Stanford in 2013.

And what’s your outlook on Stanford for the rest of the season?

DP:

I think that this is one of the most complete Stanford teams that has ever walked on The Farm. That being said, there are so many challenges on our schedule, with Washington, UCLA and Oregon at home being the big hurdles. We do get all three at home, but I think our tendency to play close games will come hurt us and a slip-up will yield a loss to one of those teams. We’ll learn a lot about our defense from our game against ASU on Saturday, but if they look good I think it’s very possible that we beat Oregon and once again win the Pac-12 North, especially with OSU becoming less of a factor. I think we’ll get past ASU/UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship and another Rose Bowl berth is realistic. With my fingers crossed, though, I’m hoping that the dominos fall in our favor and we get to play in Pasadena for the final BCS title.

That’s all I have, and if you don’t have anything else, I just want to thank you again for taking your time to do this!

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu and The State Press’ sports department at sports.statepress ‘at’ gmail.com.

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