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ASU vs. Stanford: Behind enemy lines with Go Mighty Card

It's never too late for one more Stanford Q&A. This time, Hank Waddles of drops by to talk about where Kevin Hogan ranks in the Pac-12 and what the loss of Henry Anderson means.

Is this guy really the No. 2 quarterback in the Pac-12? Both Stanford writers we spoke with this week believe so.
Is this guy really the No. 2 quarterback in the Pac-12? Both Stanford writers we spoke with this week believe so.

Gameday is upon us but it isn't too late to learn something new about Arizona State's opponent, the Stanford Cardinal.

Our friend Hank Waddles of was kind enough to answer a few questions for us so we can be better prepared for Saturday's marquee game. And without further ado, here is our Q&A:

Q: After a few consecutive seasons of Stanford having a go-to tight end, how is the team adjusting to life without a top tier talent at that position?

Hank Waddles: I was never really convinced that Stanford's heavy use of tight ends was as much about offensive philosophy as it was necessity. Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo were simply the best receivers on the roster; they just happened to be tight ends. Fleener, you might remember, was also faster than any Stanford wide receiver at the time, so even though he was listed as a tight end on the depth chart, he often lined up out wide and ran patterns you'd normally expect to see from a wide receiver. (Interestingly enough, Stanford's reputation as a tight end factory has grown to the point that redshirt freshman (and converted defensive end) Luke Kaumatule, who had zero career receptions entering this season, was named to the pre-season watch list for the Mackey Award given annually to the nation's top tight end.)

But the roster is different this year. With unproven tight ends and the fastest threesome of wide receivers in Stanford history (Ty Montgomery, Michael Rector, and Kodi Whitfield), the offense has tipped back in that direction. Watch out for Montgomery this week. He caught six balls for 130 yards and a touchdown last week, and has emerged as the clear No. 1 option for quarterback Kevin Hogan.

Q: What did you learn from last week's game against Army? Can Stanford get to the national championship if they continue to play down to their competition?

Waddles: I think the biggest takeaway from the Army game was that Tyler Gaffney has claimed the starting running back job. After losing Stepfan Taylor (who's down there in Arizona now playing for the Cardinals), Coach Shaw talked openly about having a running-back-by-committee approach to the position this fall, and players like Anthony Wilkerson and Remound Wright were expected to compete with Gaffney for carries. After two games, however, Gaffney has carried the ball 40 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and everyone else has just 35 for 158. I couldn't imagine that Gaffney would this effective after taking a year off to try his hand at minor league baseball, but he looks better this year than he ever did before his break.

As for the overall team performance, I can't say that it worried me too much. Sure, other national championship contenders have posted early-season blowouts, but when you consider the circumstances (the Cardinal traveled across three time zones and kicked off at 9:00 AM California time), the most important thing is that they got the victory they planned on. As the competition begins to ramp up, starting with this Saturday, I expect the Cardinal to raise their level as well.

Q: We spoke with Rule of Tree (SB Nation's Stanford site) earlier this week and their editor was quite high on Hogan, calling him the second best quarterback in the conference. What is your analysis of Stanford's QB and where does he rank among the rest of the Pac-12's signal-callers?

Waddles: This is an interesting question. Marcus Mariota is far and away the best quarterback in the conference, but things get a bid cloudy after him. I suppose UCLA's Brett Hundley is the name that jumps out as a possible No. 2, but Hogan is pretty close to him. In fact, when you consider that Hogan has never lost a game as a starting quarterback -- a seven-game streak that includes four straight wins over ranked teams (Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA twice) and Stanford's first Rose Bowl win in more than forty years. With all that in mind, it seems right to slot him at No. 2. His mobility makes him a threat on the ground, and his arm is strong enough to make all the throws necessary our of the pocket. Look for him on designed roll-outs to both sides this Saturday.

Q: How impacted will Stanford be playing without DE Henry Anderson Saturday?

Waddles: The Stanford defense is incredibly deep, so they should be able to absorb the absence of Anderson. He was the clear starter and logged the man's share of the minutes, but defensive coordinator Derek Mason rotates six players through his three-man front, so Anderson's replacement, Josh Mauro, isn't untested. Even so, it'll be interesting to see how the defense responds to this loss.

Q: Last but not least, what is your score and prediction? And don't be gentle.

Waddles: For a team with national championship aspirations, it's important for Stanford to make a statement on Saturday, as much for themselves as for the voters. I expect that the offense will continue to evolve, as Shaw has a tendency in his play-calling to keep things rather vanilla during the early season. Some observers complained that the offense was a bit too one-dimensional last week and that players like Kelsey Young and Michael Rector weren't really involved, but I expect to see that change this week. Also, the defense hasn't been as lights-out as many expected, so that unit has something to prove as well.

The pick here is Stanford 34, Arizona State 17.