Last year was a great one for the Sun Devils, but that loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game puts a blemish on it all. Arizona State can erase those memories and cement themselves near the top of the Pac-12 race on its home grass against the Cardinal. Here's what our staff thinks.
Justin Emerson: Managing Editor (@J15Emerson)
Nick Krueger: Managing Editor (@NickPKrueger)
Jason Galvin: Columnist (@Jason_Galvin)
Shane Theodore: Staff writer (@shane_writes)
Even if Taylor Kelly is healthy, would you give him 100 percent of the snaps?
Emerson: If he is 100 percent, he starts. If he is 99 percent, I'd let Mike Bercovici take the wheel. Kelly doesn't have the best history against Stanford, and Bercovici has proven he can succeed. If Kelly is not back to himself, another week of rehab won't hurt the team.
Krueger: If he is the normal Taylor Kelly we all have come to know, then he should start and play the entire game.
Galvin: Absolutely...anyone who says otherwise has never watched a team try and play with a QB split. Either TK is 100% and he plays the entire game, or he's not and shouldn't play at all. Anything else is unacceptable.
Theodore: If Taylor Kelly is healthy, Taylor Kelly is my quarterback. If Arizona State was in a worse situation than sitting at 4-1 in a conference that doesn't have any more undefeated teams I would understand maybe keeping Kelly on the bench until he's 100% ready to get back and playing Bercovici. But if Kelly is healthy enough to play, the season is too young and has too much opportunity to not play your captain.
Does what happened last year against Stanford mean anything tonight?
Emerson: It means everything. Arizona State got slaughtered twice last year, including the humiliation in the Pac-12 title game. The Sun Devils need to go out there and at least play Stanford close, otherwise they'll have to carry that monkey their backs another year.
Krueger: This is a hump the Sun Devils have to prove they can get over sooner rather than later. What does it mean? It means a lot from the 10,000-foot view of Arizona State advancing as a football program. They must overcome the best, last season was about true national respect and the Sun Devils couldn't get it done. Although the program has elevated in the eyes of most under Graham, Saturday night is about applying what the team learned last season about Stanford and using it to the best of their capabilities. It's also about the Sun Devils proving to themselves that they can win big, primetime home games in convincing fashion, which only four teams in the Pac-12 through Friday has been able to do this season.
Galvin: To Stanford? Probably not. To Arizona State? It means everything. The Sun Devils have to prove they can beat tough defenses, and they've yet to have a signature win against one. Furthermore, last year the Sun Devils made the Cardinal offense look like a juggernaut, which was obviously not the case. A win this weekend erases those demons and gives the Sun Devils incredible confidence going forward.
Theodore: The losses last year probably mean a lot to the Arizona State players and they definitely mean a lot to the fans headed into this game, but they mean nothing to Stanford. There's value to be found in using the games last year as motivation, but once the ball is kicked off Arizona State needs to only think about the game happening before them.
Where has DJ Foster been and will he show up tonight?
Emerson: He's been t.he lost land that every running back goes when his quarterback passes for 500 yards. With Bercovici, the game was so focused on the pass, the running game became obsolete. As for tonight, I expect similar performances to what he did against UCLA and USC against Stanford's defense.
Krueger: He has been lost in the pass-heavy offense the Sun Devils have had to employ over the past two weeks in order to try and stay competitive in games against USC and UCLA. Will he show up is a question of which quarterback, Kelly or Bercovici, takes the snaps for the Sun Devils. Expect another mediocre to poor performance from Foster if it's Bercovici and a better one if it's Kelly.
Galvin: He's been chasing points. The Sun Devils were in a shootout with both UCLA and USC, and that will slow any running back down. Arizona State is having more success throwing the ball, especially with Bercovici at quarterback. One, Bercovici has a better arm than Taylor Kelly, and two, opposing defense loaded the box to stop Foster once Kelly went down. If Kelly plays this week, Foster will be back.
Theodore: DJ Foster hasn't been slumping, he just hasn't been involved in the game plan. Foster averaged 18 carries in the three games to open the season, but his totals dropped to 9 carries and 10 carries in the two games that Bercovici started. What Kelly brings to the offense, aside from his experience, is the ability to operate a running attack and even participate in that running attack. Kelly's versatility and experience in the option gives Foster more chances. Serving as proof of how good Foster is and that he hasn't been slumping as of late, his receiving stats improved in the UCLA and USC games and he scored a touchdown against USC.
If Bercovici plays tonight, the plays will be called around his strengths, and those strengths are in his throwing ability. If Kelly plays and he's healthy enough to work the spread offense, expect Foster's carries and rushing production to go back to his normal numbers.
Which Cardinal (offense or defense) does Arizona State need to hone in on most in order to be successful?
Emerson: This game won't be a shootout, and the defense needs to make sure the game doesn't get out of control. I don't see the Sun Devils putting up 40 points, but Stanford might, so if the defense can prevent the score difference from being more than a score or two, Arizona State might just steal one.
Krueger: Well Ty Montgomery would be 1A, but not far behind him would be pick a name out of a hat on the Stanford linebacking corps. AJ Tarpley and Blake Martinez are two of the best linebackers in the Pac-12. Bercovici's interceptions against UCLA came from a lack of anticipation and field vision to other players undercutting passes. If he telegraphs his passes against Stanford, the Cardinal, especially the afore mentioned linebackers, will have an easy time stopping the Sun Devils.
Galvin: The Sun Devils better not let Stanford score a lot. If the Cardinal put 30 or more on the board, it won't matter what the Arizona State offense does.
Theodore: Sometimes in life, it's best to fight the battles you can win. Stanford's defense has asserted themselves as the nation's best, and to expect the Arizona State offense to run roughshod on them is not realistic. But the Cardinal offense has struggled this season, and mediocre defenses like USC and Washington have held them in check. I think it's clear that Arizona State doesn't even have an average defense, but a disciplined performance from the Sun Devil defense will keep this game competitive.
Give us your final score prediction and one prediction about the game.
Emerson: Stanford 28, Arizona State 21. Stanford scores the first two touchdowns of the game.
Krueger: Stanford: 24 Arizona State: 20. The Sun Devils will jump out to a 14-3 lead at halftime.
Galvin: Stanford 27, Arizona State 23. The Sun Devils give up a special teams touchdown to Ty Montgomery.
Theodore: It's been a long 11 months since the embarrassment against Stanford in Tempe, and the energy in the stadium will give Arizona State an awesome home field advantage. But they had a home field advantage last time around, and we know how that turned out. This game shouldn't be as lopsided as the Pac-12 title game was, but I expect Stanford to come out with the win, 27-21. Arizona State gets a chance to win it at the end, isn't able to.