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ASU Football: First look at the Stanford Cardinal

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How have the Cardinal looked so far and how will they look against ASU?

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Eds. Since this article was published, news broke on Tuesday that Stanford wide receiver Devon Cajuste will not play against Arizona State

In its past 22 games, Arizona State is 17-3 and 0-2 against Stanford. They'll try to reverse that trend Saturday night against the Cardinal. Their head coach David Shaw has brought a brand of football to "The Farm" that can best be characterized as "death by 1,000 cuts." Stanford will beat most teams with long, methodical drives on offense and then stifling defense on the other end. Couple that with some incredible special teams, and that's a recipe for a Pac-12 Championship and a Rose Bowl birth.

Don't expect it to come easy, but in some ways this is a much different Stanford team than the one Arizona State faced last year. The Sun Devils will certainly have a chip on their shoulder heading into Saturday night.

Stanford this season

The Cardinal crushed their first non-conference opponent at home UC Davis 45-0. It was never a contest as Stanford took a 38-0 lead into halftime. Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for 204 yards with three touchdowns and senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery had five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.

USC, the same USC that the Sun Devils beat 38-34,  flipped the script the following week taking down the Cardinal 13-10. The Trojans took the early touchdown lead in the first quarter but fifth year senior kicker Jordan Williamson booted a 33-yard field goal with 11 seconds left before halftime to give the Cardinal 10-7 lead into the break. Two trojan field goals in the second half including one with just 2:30 left in the game were enough to put USC over the top. Williamson missed two other field goals in the game and the Cardinal uncharacteristically turned the ball over twice in the loss. They also committed eight penalties for 68 yards.

They rebounded the following week with a convincing 35-0 win over Army, holding the Black Knights to nine total yards passing. Hogan completed 20 of 28 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. The offense did struggle, punting on four of its first six possessions, but the defense stifled Army's triple option offense all afternoon.

Stanford also got the better of Washington 20-13 the following week in a mistake-ridden game. The Cardinal turned the ball over three times and Williamson missed another field goal. If the Huskies hadn't decided to run a fake punt with the game tied at 13 midway through the fourth quarter from their own 47-yard line, it could have been a different story. Hogan capitalized and drove Stanford down to the 5-yard line where he ran it in to give the Cardinal what proved to be the winning touchdown. The defense, once again impressive, held Washington to 179 total yards.

On a rainy afternoon in South Bend, Indiana, the Cardinal didn't have enough to take down the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, ranked No. 9 at the time, by a score of 17-14. The final 7:30 of the game was action packed. Kyle Brindza hit a 45-yard field goal to put the Irish up 10-7. Senior running back Remound Wright found the end zone from 11 yards out with 3:01 remaining to give Stanford the 14-10 lead. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson then connected with tight end Ben Koyack in the end zone from 23 yards out with 1:01 left to give Notre Dame the win. Hogan threw two interceptions in the game and the Stanford defense let up 370 yards of offense to the Irish.

The Cardinal rebounded the next week, pulling away from Washington State late in the game to win 34-17 over the Cougars. Stanford held Mike Leach, Connor Halliday and the air-raid offense to 292 yards passing on 69 attempts. Not to mention they held the Cougars to negative 26 yards rushing. Hogan was 23 of 35 for 284 yards and three touchdowns.

Offense

The offense has struggled this season and hasn't been nearly as productive as in years past. Kevin Hogan returns for his third year under center for the Cardinal. He has completed 65.5 percent of his passes this year with 11 touchdowns, averaging 220 yards per game. He's a threat on the ground as well, rushing 45 times through six games for 132 yards. Hogan is now 20-5 as a starting quarterback. While he's not the among the best in the Pac-12, Hogan gets the job done as a game manager in Shaw's system.

Senior Kelsey Young, junior Barry Sanders (yes, the son of the NFL legend) and senior Remound Wright all handle the rushing duties out of the backfield. The Cardinal lost a lot of production here in Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney and much of the running game this season has been by committee. All three players have at least 170 yards rushing on at least 30 carries a piece this season. Wright leads the way with 51 attempts for 281 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders is next with 31 carries for 235 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. The running game for Stanford utilizes a lot of unbalanced lines with power I formations so the Sun Devils have to be ready in the trenches.

The core of wide receivers returns in 2014, led by seniors Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste. Montgomery is far and away the No. 1 receiving threat for the Cardinal, catching 37 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Cajuste is also a big play guy, hauling in 18 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Stanford loves to run plenty of bubble and hitch screens for five to seven yard chunks, that's how they continue to wear down defenses so quickly.

On the offensive line Cameron Fleming and David Yankey have both moved on to the NFL, but Stanford hardly loses any size up front. They average 304 pounds from tackle to tackle and are highlighted by left tackle Andrus Peat, who prepped at Corona del Sol locally. The junior stands 6-foot-7, 316 pounds and was second team All-Pac-12 last season.

If Arizona State is going to have success on offense, they can't over think what they see in front of them. Stanford loves to make its offensive schemes look really exotic and confusing when in reality its just an illusion to a very basic run up the middle. If the Sun Devils can simplify, they can have success.

They also have to take advantage of mistakes, which Stanford has had a lot of this season for a Shaw-coached team. They're averaging 61.5 penalty yards per game and have fumbled the ball 15 times, recovering only eight of those and Hogan has thrown four interceptions too. When these opportunities arise, specifically when the Sun Devils have good field position, Arizona State has to take advantage and score quickly because 80 and 90 yard drives are rare against this Stanford defense.

Defense

The defensive front is extremely experienced. David Parry, Blake Lueders and Henry Anderson are all fifth year seniors who combined for 66 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season. The biggest losses probably came in the linebacking corps with Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, but incredibly three seniors and a junior will still start there for the Cardinal. Junior inside linebacker Blake Martinez leads the team in tackles with 46, right behind him is the other inside linebacker in senior A.J. Tarpley with 41 tackles, two sacks and an interception. Seniors James Vaughters and Kevin Anderson hold down the outside linebacker duties. They've combined for 50 tackles and three sacks this season.

If the Sun Devils want to get their running game going, this might not be the game to do it. Stanford is holding teams to 99.8 yards per game on the ground and has allowed just one rushing touchdown this season and ball carriers are averaging just three yards per rush against them.

The big loss in the secondary this season for Stanford is free safety Ed Reynolds who had 71 tackles, an interception and four pass break ups. Junior Zach Hoffpauir has stepped up in his place with 27 tackles and four passes defended. Opposite him at strong safety is senior Jordan Richards who has an interception and 35 tackles to his name. At the corner spots are junior Alex Carter and senior Wayne Lyons. This is the group that allowed just nine total passing yards to Army. The Stanford defense has allowed just 138.2 yards per game through the air on average.

This is far and away the best defense the Sun Devils have seen and probably will see all season long. At all costs Arizona State must keep the tempo up, they struggled last season when the Cardinal were able to break their rhythm on offense.

Special teams

The Cardinal have been very middle of the road in this aspect except for Montgomery on punt return. He's averaged 21.6 yards per return on nine total returns and has a touchdown. He has the same amount of kick returns but his average of 29.1 is even better. Jordan Williamson has 15 touchbacks on 31 kickoffs but has struggled on field goals, making just 6 of 11 and hasn't made one longer than 35 yards yet this season.

His field goal kicking (or lack their of) has nearly cost Stanford a few games and the Cardinal lead the nation in most times reaching the red zone this season without scoring (9). Senior Ben Rhyne handles the punting duties, of 26 punts, he has landed nine inside the 20-yard line and averages 38.3 yards per punt.