Over the past two seasons, Arizona State has exorcised some football demons around the Pac-12. It began last year, when the Sun Devils captured the Pac-12 South title in Los Angles with a victory over UCLA. Finally, the Sun Devils stepped up to win a crucial game.
Then, on Oct. 4 the Sun Devil picked up their first victory on the road against USC since 1999. Saturday night, the Sun Devils will look to exorcise some more demons when they host Stanford.
Last season, the Sun Devils went 0-2 against the Cardinal, losing by a combined 38 points. The last time Arizona State beat Stanford was 2008, Jim Harbaugh's second season in Palo Alto.
"We have Stanford coming in here. A very, very good football team," Todd Graham said at his weekly press conference. "A very well-coached football team. I'm real confident in my guys and where we are. We are excited about this week and the opportunity to compete against Stanford."
Stanford lost a lot of talent off of its 2013 Rose Bowl team, including Trent Murphy, Tyler Gaffney and Shayne Skov. This year's Stanford team is averaging just 26.3 points per game, placing them No. 89 nationally. Their defense however, is leading the nation in points allowed per game, giving up just 10 points per contest.
"They are very similar (to last year's team)," said Graham. "They are playing great defense and great special teams. They are very, very explosive on special teams. They are very, very well-prepared and coached. They are not going to beat themselves. Very similar to us in terms of the discipline they have. They are the most disciplined team we have faced thus far."
The Stanford power-run game has typically given Arizona State trouble. Few teams in today's college football line up in the I-formation and pound the football like Stanford does. However, with four new offensive linemen in 2014, the Cardinal rank just No. 85 nationally in rushing offense.
"They are one of the best teams in the league because they are one of the best prepared and the most disciplined," said Graham. "They are not going to beat themselves. They play very sound on special teams. The key to this game, like any other game, is controlling and taking care of the football. Obviously being able to win the battle up front, running the football and stopping the run."
Graham was asked about the parity in the conference through the early part of Pac-12 play. There are zero remaining undefeated teams in the Pac-12. Only three teams in the conference have more than two losses. Six of the 12 teams in the conference are ranked in the latest AP Poll and only two have losing records.
"This is one of the best (conferences), it is one of the best coached," said Graham. "What makes it difficult is the athletes and players that we have in the league. You have to bring it every week."
Oregon, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Arizona State have all lost games at home. Utah's only loss was a one-point setback at home against Washington State. The Washington State Cougars held Oregon close for three quarters, Arizona need a Hail Mary to beat Cal at home. Washington also fell to Stanford by just seven points at home.
"Anyone in this league can beat another," said Graham. "Focus in getting better and improving, you reap what you sow. You have to be better fundamentally every week."
Bye Week Work
The Sun Devils spent less time on Stanford and more time working on in-house matters during their second bye week of the season. Graham said the Sun Devils spent a lot of time improving their fundamentals and working on the little things.
"I think we have made a lot of progress fundamentally," said Graham. "We are really coming into our own and getting better. The key is improvement in every area."
The Sun Devils are hoping that improvement is on display this Saturday against Stanford.
"Obviously it has to all come together this week. Every week is a single elimination tournament. We are in control of our own destiny," said Graham.
- Graham said that senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks will see some more time this week at punt returner. Damarious Randall will still see time as well, but the coaching staff wants to see Middlebrooks in that role this week in practice.
- The kickoff time for Arizona State's Oct. 25 contest against Washington will be 7:45 PT in Seattle. The game will be televised by ESPN.
- Graham offered no update on the status of Taylor Kelly. Whether he plays will depend on how Kelly performs this week in practice and how mobile he is on the injured foot.