We asked Rule of Tree editor Jack Blanchat what Saturday holds between the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-2, 1-0 Pac-12) and Stanford Cardinal (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12). Then, House of Sparky co-managing editors Josiah Destin and Max Madden answered Blanchat’s questions in return.
House of Sparky asks Rule of Tree
QB Keller Chryst sustained a concussion against UCLA, then K.J. Costello came in and threw for two TDs, no INTs and nearly completed 70 percent of his throws. Chryst hasn't been extremely productive, will Costello steal his job? What is Chryst's status?
Blanchat: I'd comfortably bet that Costello does get the start this week, but David Shaw was pretty noncommittal when he talked about his quarterbacks on Tuesday. Shaw did mention that Chryst was still recovering this week (I'm assuming he sustained a concussion). So I think you'll see mostly Costello with some appearances from Ryan Burns in run packages, and if Costello plays well again, I think Shaw will officially commit to him as the starter going forward. I just think Shaw wanted to be sensitive regarding Chryst's injury, even though his performance certainly hadn't been up to snuff the last few weeks.
RB Bryce Love averaged 7.1 yards per run last season as Christian McCaffrey's backup, but did anyone expect him to lead the nation in rushing yards (787)? What type of trouble will he create against ASU?
Blanchat: We knew he was very good, but even this is beyond what anyone expected. He's just so fast and so shifty that any team who can't hit him in the backfield risks the chance that Love will it to the house. And he's proved he can take it to the house from anywhere on the field, with career TD runs of 47, 48, 7, 56, 50, 10, 75, 51, 53, and 69 yards. Given the fact that Rashaad Penny ripped up the ASU defense, I would say Love is likely to have another good week this week - even though Love is more shifty and fast than powerful and bruising.
After ranking 50th in the nation last season in total defense, the Cardinal rank at 106. Why is Stanford having trouble stopping the ball? Who needs to step up the most against ASU who has scored 79 points in its last two games?
Blanchat: Honestly, the biggest difference has been on the defensive line, where the loss of Solomon Thomas to the NFL has been absolutely devastating. Stanford's front four was pushed around by USC and San Diego State's offensive lines, and they weren't able to generate enough pressure to harass Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen. The defensive backs haven't dominated so far this year, but the defensive line is where Stanford's defense needs to get better - and fast.
Do fans think this is the start of the decline of Stanford football? The Cardinal haven't lost more than five games since 2008. They've lost two already and only lost three last season.
Blanchat: I don't know that "decline" is exactly the right word - Stanford is still recruiting well and did have a 10-win season last year - and the bar was set pretty high for the past few years before that. I do know that some fans have fretted about Stanford's QB play, because Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst haven't filled the huge shoes left by Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan, while some other fans are concerned about Stanford's big defensive dropoff so far this year. Time will tell if that's actually a sustained decline or a blip that the program works its way through - and I personally believe that the program is in good health and will continue to be a conference contender for the next few years.
ASU hasn't played in Palo Alto since 2013, is there any home field advantage like chants or advantages the Cardinal have that ASU should be aware of?
Blanchat: Even as a Stanford fan, this question made me chuckle - Stanford stadium isn't really an imposing environment. It sometimes gets packed and loud in there (Notre Dame, USC, and Cal always draw good crowds), but I don't think this game will be more than even 75 percent full.
Score prediction for Saturday?
Blanchat: I think Stanford found its offensive spark last week - and I think Bryce Love will be a major difference maker on Saturday - but I still expect this one to be high-scoring, so I'll say Stanford 38, ASU 31.
Rule of Tree Asks House of Sparky
Arizona State pulled off a big win against Oregon last week — what was working for the Sun Devils, and can they repeat that performance?
Destin: Coming into the game, ASU had ranked last in the nation in stopping third down conversions. The Sun Devils held Oregon to 1-11 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down. While it was the offense who put together almost 500 total yards, the defense made the difference.
Madden: Josiah’s definitely right, but wide receiver N’Keal Harry and ASU’s special teams unit played large roles as well. Harry went 7 for 170 against an improved Oregon secondary and the Devils’ freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz converted three of three field goal attempts, including a game-winning 41-yarder.
So far, ASU hasn't held an opponent under 30 points — what's the read on the Devils defense so far? Any major strengths or weaknesses?
Destin: The Sun Devils have finished last in the nation in pass defense back-to-back seasons since 2015. While head coach Todd Graham loves to blitz, creating more open space down the field, the Sun Devils have four new starters in the secondary. It’s the passing defense this year that ranks 128th in the nation, but the running defense isn’t great as well. Aside from Baylor giving up a 99-yard run, the Sun Devils, who let Rashaad Penny carry to a 95-yard touchdown, are the only team to let up a 90-plus yard run.
Madden: The pass defense looks like it’s going to finish in the bottom ten this year once again, but ASU looked much better against the run last weekend. The Sun Devils held Oregon tailback Royce Freeman to 81 yards and were able to make him a non-factor for the most part. Overall, though, this team still has a lot to prove on that side of the ball.
What's the strength of this team on offense and how will they attack Stanford's defense?
Destin: The Sun Devils love to throw the ball. Manny Wilkins ranks 11th in the nation in passing yards with 1,271, and while he’s grown, it’s mainly because of his talented receiving corp. Five different receivers have already managed 100-yard or more performances, and that’s the first time it’s happened in school history. N’Keal Harry, Jalen Harvey, Kyle Williams and Frank Darby are some names to watch out for.
Madden: Before the season head coach Todd Graham constantly preached a desire to run the ball more often and more effectively this season. That hasn’t happened, so the Devils have taken to the air this year. Wilkins has been the key factor here, as the redshirt junior has thrown for 1,271 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how afraid of you of Bryce Love?
Destin: Personally, I’m not afraid, but I’m excited to see what he can put together. Penny already piled 216 rushing yards against ASU in week two, so it’s the Sun Devils who should have about an eight or nine on the fear meter.
Madden: If you would have asked me last week, I would’ve said the Devils should fear him on a level of nine. After limiting Freeman’s production, though, ASU should be at about a six. Love is extremely talented, but I would argue that the best backs the Sun Devils face are behind them.
What's the Arizona State fan base feeling about Todd Graham right now?
Destin: After the San Diego State game, fans wanted him out. It was so bad that players were being called out on Twitter and the ASU football Twitter account sent out a tweet telling people to tweet their complaints at the ASU football account, not at the student-athletes. After a win over Oregon, his seat isn’t as hot, but a generous amount of people want him out.
Madden: From what I understand, it’s a pretty mixed bag. After SDSU, I’m not sure I saw a single comment in support of Graham but there was a fair amount of positivity following their win over the Ducks. This is definitely a prove-it game.
ASU doesn't play Stanford very often now that its the Pac-12, so I'm curious: how do ASU fans feel about Stanford football in general?
Destin: ASU fans most definitely see Stanford as a powerhouse. The Cardinal have made the Rose Bowl in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Enough said.
Madden: Stanford is a terrific football program and that’s how ASU fans should see it. I’m sure there’s a healthy fear of the Cardinal.
Finally, what's your prediction for this game?
Destin: Cardinal win 37-31.
Madden: Stanford, 31-28