By David Cohn
Stanford is now on a collision course with Arizona State for the Dec. 7 Pac-12 Championship Game. When the Cardinal met the Sun Devils in September, it jumped out to a 29-0 halftime lead before letting ASU back into the game in the second half. We asked football writers David Cohn, Do-Hyoung Park and Winston Shi: What can Stanford take from its 42-28 win earlier in the season?
David: I believe that Stanford can derive some confidence from September’s win against ASU heading into Saturday’s matchup. In the three meaningful quarters of that football game, the Cardinal harassed Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly, blocked two punts and made newly minted Pac-12 Coach of the Year Todd Graham look lost. Stanford didn’t just beat the Sun Devils; the Card embarrassed ASU and showed all of us that it is more than capable of beating the Sun Devils, even in Tempe.
In addition, I believe the Cardinal has a lot of motivation heading into this game – many people are proclaiming the Sun Devils as the favorite in this contest, rather than the defending conference champion Cardinal, which has also made three consecutive BCS bowls. Even Vegas doubts the Card, as ASU is about a three-point favorite in most places.
Stanford has always played its best football when its play has been criticized or its chances of winning a contest are questioned. To name a few examples, as the underdog, the Cardinal knocked off Oregon in both 2012 and 2013 and took down USC in 2012. I will always remember David Shaw’s quote at the Rose Bowl trophy presentation ceremony, when Chris Fowler asked him about seeking national respect: “We still feel like we don’t have it.” As Fowler brilliantly pointed out later on in the conversation, Stanford likes to play with a chip on its shoulder and prove people wrong.
Do: Next to nothing. I don’t believe that the September win translates well to the Pac-12 Championship Game because the circumstances surrounding the two games are so different.
For one, the September meeting was all the way back in week four, when teams had not yet fully gelled, and Arizona State especially had not asserted itself as a Pac-12 South power. At this point in the season, teams are supposed to be at their best after a full season of play as a unit. Arizona State has rebounded exceptionally well at the end of the season after early losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, while both of Stanford’s losses have come later in the season.
In addition, both of these teams have drastic home/away swings that definitely cannot be overlooked in a game of this magnitude. Both of these teams have been very flat outside of their home stadiums, and the fact that this game will be played at Sun Devil Stadium is going to have big implications. Stanford and ASU have combined for four losses this season, all four of which have come away from home. The Sun Devils score an average of 15 more points in home games than in road games. Meanwhile, Stanford has been far from its dominant self in losses at USC and Utah and unexpectedly close games at Army and Oregon State.
While Stanford was clearly the better team in the early-season victory against ASU, that game is now ancient history. The Cardinal had a great plan to neutralize Will Sutton and was able to run all over the Sun Devils. But in a repeat matchup, expect ASU to be much more prepared on defense, while Kevin Hogan has had more than his share of struggles on the road. ASU will be ready, and ASU will be hungry.
Winston: I still see the early game as instructive. It’s hard to imagine that the same sort of beatdown is going to happen again, if only because Arizona State has to regress to the mean – and given its results later this season, ASU certainly has. However, ASU’s players are still the same players, and its coaches are still the same coaches.
Arizona State has done well since the Stanford debacle, and Arizona, Washington, and USC are three very impressive scalps. But do the Sun Devils have the sort of signature win that Stanford has? The Sun Devils dodged Cal on the schedule, which I’m sure they regret, but they also missed Oregon. ASU’s only game against elite competition resulted in a humiliation that we all saw and loved.
What could Arizona State do against Stanford? The Sun Devils couldn’t run the ball up the middle. Taylor Kelly scrambled well and had success throwing quick screens, but ever since Stanford started blitzing screeners, teams haven’t really pressed the outside passing game. UCLA went away from the screens. Notre Dame went away from the screens. USC went away from the screens. Oregon went away from the screens.
I watched most of Arizona State’s annihilation of Arizona. There were some very good plays, to be sure. You don’t take out a team like that without deserving to win. But Arizona still had some success. It more than held its own in the trenches on both sides of the ball; the Wildcats simply shot themselves in the foot in epic fashion. With quality line play, Stanford will prove that reports of its demise have been most premature indeed.
Do-Hyoung Park thinks the Cardinal can take “next to nothing” away from its early season victory over ASU. To tell him and the rest of the crew why Stanford’s shutdown of Will Sutton proves he shouldn’t be the conference’s defensive player of the year, contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu, David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu, and Winston Shi at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.