The Arizona State Sun Devils are set to play Stanford Saturday for the first time since the Pac-10 conference realigned. Since it's been a while, we decided to check in with Rule of Tree's Jack Blanchat to find out what we can expect this weekend in Palo Alto. Here's what he had to say:
Q: Stanford came into the season with national championship goals. After watching the Cardinal play during the first two weeks, how realistic are those expectations?
I think those expectations are still realistic. This team already looks a lot better than the team that won the Rose Bowl last year at the same juncture. And while it's clear to me that the Pac-12 is much improved in 2013, I still think the Cardinal is very capable of winning the Pac-12 and therefore being in the national title conversation.
Q: At this juncture, where do you rank Kevin Hogan among Pac-12 quarterbacks? Do you think that his lack of rushing attempts this season will become a trend? And is Stanford better or worse off when he runs less?
I think Hogan is for sure one of the best QBs in the conference - I would rank him only behind Marcus Mariota - but I can see an argument for Brett Hundley being made as the 2nd-best QB in the conference. I do think his lack of rushing attempts will be a trend for Stanford this season, but I think Stanford is better off when they allow him to create with his feet. He doesn't need to run 15 times a game, but he is a very valuable runner. The good thing is that it's very easy to put more quarterback runs in the game plan at any point during the season.
Q: Let's face it, Stanford's defense is downright scary. Most teams tried to attack them through the air last season but is that the best way to find success? How much should the Devils be pounding the ball against that stout run defense?
I think the Devils and the rest of the Pac-12 shouldn't ever give up on the run game, because then you let Stanford's pass-rushers like Trent Murphy tee off on you - and that's a bad idea. Stanford has a bit of an undersized (but very talented and aggressive) middle of the line, so that might be team's best bet in the run game. Furthermore, while it's going to be hard to run effectively against the Cardinal all game long, that doesn't mean teams should just flat-out fling it. This secondary is talented and Ed Reynolds is an interception machine. I think the ideal offensive game plan involves more passing than running - starting off with short passes to the boundaries (and slants) and then hitting the Cardinal up the middle with the run game. That's what Arizona did last year.
Q: Stanford is one of those fundamentally sound teams that doesn't have many flaws on paper. In your opinion, what's the recipe to beating the Cardinal this season?
I think it's imperative to create turnovers and not turn the ball over if you want to beat Stanford - because the Cardinal likes to have long possessions, if you can make Stanford drives end without points on the board, you've done what you need to win. If you create a turnover against Oregon, they can still dart down the field and score on their next possession. For Stanford, 10 minutes might run off the clock before they get the chance to score again. Other than that, I think the blueprint to defeating the Cardinal defense is a lot of packaged plays that allow for run/pass options. That's what Arizona did a year ago, and they hung 48 points on the Cardinal D.
Q: We saved the most important question for last: what's your prediction for Saturday's game and why?
After watching the crazy Wisconsin - ASU ending, I'm thinking that Stanford is probably going to win this game, but I expect it to be a battle. I think the Card wins by a touchdown or so. I think Stanford's excellent run game - which closely mirrors that of Wisconsin - and solid quarterback play will lead to a lot of long drives for the Cardinal, and something like a 28-20 win. I think Will Sutton finds his way into the backfield a few times, though.
To learn more about the 2013 Stanford football team, pay a visit to Rule of Tree.