We've already shared with you the first portion of our interview with Stanford football writers from Rule of Tree and Go Mighty Card, and now we get an even closer look at the Stanford-Arizona State matchup in the second installment of Behind Enemy Lines.
Question: Outside of the obvious (a power run game), what do you believe will be Stanford's offensive X-Factor?
Jack Blanchat: It's all about Kevin Hogan's passing - and how he finds Ty Montgomery. Hogan's had a mediocre to bad second half of the season, but if he's able to find Montgomery with some success on Saturday, he can single-handedly buoy the pass game enough to unclog some holes for Tyler Gaffney. Ideally, Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector all get the ball, but Montgomery is a game-changing talent at the college level.
Jacob Jaffe: It has to be Hogan-to-Montgomery. For as much as Andrew Luck spread the ball around, Hogan relies on Montgomery, and often with good reason. Over a third of Hogan's completions and close to 40 percent of his passing yards have gone to Montgomery, who has a good chance to be the Cardinal's first 1,000-yard receiver since Troy Walters in 1999. If they get in a rhythm, watch out.
Darius Tahir: Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste are interesting factors here. Rector was slotted early in the season as a pure deep burner, but his role has expanded into intermediate routes. His speed, it turns out, is effective all over the field. Cajuste is a matchup problem for everyone, especially in the slot.
Hank Waddles: Ty Montgomery is obviously the game-changing talent on the Stanford offense, but I think the Stanford offense is at its best when Hogan is finding multiple targets. If Michael Rector catches two or three balls, and if Devon Cajuste converts a few key first downs, that will prevent the defense from focusing solely on Montgomery. Also, Davis Dudchock caught three passes last week, giving hope that the tight end position might be returning to relevance in the Stanford offense. It would be nice to see that trend continue on Saturday.
Question: How did you guys feel about Will Sutton winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year? A majority of our staff thought Trent Murphy was more deserving.
Jack Blanchat: The majority of your staff is right, I think. I know Will Sutton is a very good player - I appreciate how much a good defensive lineman can change the game - but if the primary argument for Sutton winning over Trent Murphy is "Sutton was double-teamed all year long"... then I don't really know what to say. Murphy faced his fair share of double teams and still had a ridiculous year, while Sutton's stats plummeted.
Jacob Jaffe: Trent Murphy was without a doubt the best defensive player in the conference, and the fact that he led the nation in sacks for the conference's top-ranked team and still didn't win the award is a crying shame. Sutton is a good player who didn't have nearly the impact this year that many thought he would (fourth on his own team in tackles for loss, tied for fifth in sacks, no forced fumbles), while Murphy exceeded all expectations and dominated week after week.
Hank Waddles: I think it's a travesty. My guess is that the conference coaches based their votes on the amount of game planning that went into stopping Sutton, but at a certain point production has to be considered. Murphy knows that this is a team game, and I'm certain he'd prefer a Rose Bowl trophy to any individual honor, but it's still a shame. Toby Gerhart knows he was the best player in America in 2009, but he doesn't have a Heisman Trophy. Andrew Luck was the best player in America in 2011, but he doesn't have a Heisman, either. As Coach Shaw says, sometimes it's nice to have tangible evidence of a job well done. It's too bad that Murphy doesn't have that.
Question: Looking back to the first matchup, how much can we read into Arizona State's 28-point second half? Was it just a matter of Stanford's secondary getting too conservative or was there more there from your perspective?
Jack Blanchat: A little of the former, but a lot of the latter. This secondary hasn't played great this year - 98th in the nation in passing yards allowed - so I think this is the big X-factor in Saturday's game. If Taylor Kelly is able to move the ball against the Stanford secondary like he was in the second half of the first matchup, I don't know if the Cardinal can score enough points to win.
Jacob Jaffe: I don't think we can reasonably expect the ASU offense to be as anemic as it was in the first half or as explosive as it was in the second half. Arizona State is great at using running backs in the pass game and using space on the edges, and that can really hurt the Cardinal. If Taylor Kelly tries a lot of slow-developing pass plays, he could find himself on his back, but the quick-strike plays have the potential to gash Stanford's defense.
Darius Tahir: The one potentially troubling schematic element is the swing pass to the running back out of the backfield, which Stanford has had some trouble against from time to time.
Hank Waddles: One of the dangers of inserting backups early in a game is that it sends the message that the coaching staff believes the game is over. After that game Shaw made it clear that the expectations don't change when the second team is on the field, but there's a reason those guys aren't on the first team. So there was definitely a drop off in talent, but there was also a clear dip in intensity, which was disappointing.
Question: With Marion Grice sitting out, D.J. Foster will be the lead back against Stanford's stout front-seven. How have the Cardinal fared against smaller scatbacks (like Foster) in recent years? Have they had better luck than a power back or do they usually get eaten alive?
Jack Blanchat: I would say that Stanford's run defense only struggles against truly elite college backs, so I wouldn't expect Foster to have a huge game. The Cardinal has had issues in the past with Ka'Deem Carey, Jonathan Franklin, LaMichael James and Bishop Sankey, but they tend to eat up most other running backs. The best way to run on Stanford is between the tackles - that's what Washington did this year and Arizona did last year - and an outside based run game usually doesn't fare all that well against this particular Cardinal D.
Jacob Jaffe: Stanford has been susceptible to the occasional big run, but I don't think ASU is likely to have consistent success on straight run plays. It usually seems to come down to schemes and play calls more than the size of the back, so I don't know that Foster's speed will particularly scare the Stanford D. The Cardinal has done just fine against Oregon's quick backs the last couple years.
Hank Waddles: Running backs don't scare this Stanford defense, at least when employed conventionally. But when they're catching passes out of the backfield, they generally pose a greater threat. Even so, the strength of the defensive coaching staff has been its ability to make adjustments as the game goes on. Don't be surprised if the Sun Devils have early success before the defense clamps down. The game will likely be decided by how well Arizona State adjusts to those adjustments.