The Arizona State Sun Devils have gotten lucky the past two years. For the past two seasons, the Sun Devils did not see Pac-12 North power Stanford on its schedule.
Now, for the first time since 2009, the Sun Devils head to Palo Alto to play the Cardinal. The last game up in the Bay Area ended with a 33-14 Stanford victory, in a game where Arizona State only mustered 290 yards of offense.
The game in 2013 could very well come down to a few key players on each team.
Taylor Kelly, Quarterback
Last season in Arizona State's eight wins, Taylor Kelly threw for 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions, In Arizona State's five losses, Kelly threw eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. Against Sacramento State, Kelly had a record setting game, looking poised and accurate all night.
Against Wisconsin, Kelly threw the ball 51 times without a touchdown and the Sun Devils won their first game when Kelly throws an interception last Saturday. There is a reason why the quarterback is the most important position in all of sports.
Kelly will make the decision on read option plays. He will have the arduous task of finding open receivers against the stout Stanford defense. Todd Graham has preached ball security all week and it starts with Kelly and his decision making.
Evan Finkenberg, Left Tackle
Finkenberg is the anchor of the Arizona State offensive line. The Sun Devils will catch a break on Saturday, as Stanford will be missing defensive end Henry Anderson. Ben Gardner had two sacks in the first half against San Jose State and the Cardinal will look to confuse the Arizona State offensive line.
Keeping the quarterback upright is a key in any game and it is especially important on the road against a top five team. Fifth-year end Josh Mauro will replace Anderson and the Stanford coaches have praised his motor.
Osahon Irabor, Cornerback
Irabor has been arguably Arizona State's best defensive player through two games of the season. Against Wisconsin, Irabor led Arizona State with seven tackles, including 2.5 for loss and a sack. Irabor now faces his toughest test yet when he stands opposite Ty Montgomery.
The standout junior wide receiver caught six passes for 130 yards against Army. Montgomery is the go-to option for Stanford at wide receiver averaging 21.1 yards per catch. He also caught a touchdown in both of Stanford's game this season.
Kevin Hogan, Quarterback
There is a reason why Hogan is undefeated as a starting quarterback. In 197 career pass attempts, the junior has thrown just four interceptions. Last season he completed over 70 percent of his passes and won a Rose Bowl in just his sixth career start.
Hogan has shown incredible poise from the outset of his career. He already has a victory on the road against Oregon and two wins against UCLA.
Co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph has stressed the fact that Arizona State has to keep Hogan in the pocket and not let him become a dual-threat. The Sun Devils must stay disciplined in their pass rush lanes and always have an eye on Hogan.
Shayne Skov, Inside Linebacker
House of Sparky writer Jason Galvin highlighted the importance of the Stanford inside linebackers earlier in the week. Skov is good at everything he does. He can rush the passer, he can drop back in coverage and he is a great tackler.
Skov has 15 tackles through two games and is one of the leaders on the Stanford defense. He plays outside when they need him to and he will be just one defender trying to confuse the Arizona State signal caller.
Ed Reynolds, Free Safety
Reynolds is all over the field for the Cardinal. He had 12 tackles in their season opening win against San Jose State. He has seven career interceptions and has 13 solo tackles on the young season.
Kelly will have to identify where Reynolds is on the field at all times. Reynolds is also dangerous if he does get his hands on the ball. Last season he led the nation in interception return yards.