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ASU Football: First Look at Stanford

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UCLA v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Last week, Arizona State’s (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) trip out near Hollywood resulted in a potential-reaching performance. With the top spot in the Pac-12 South at stake, the better team revealed itself in the second half, as the Sun Devils shut out UCLA (3-2, 1-1) in that frame for a 42-23 statement victory.

This week, the Sun Devils play host to the Stanford Cardinal (3-2, 2-1), a team which has earned the right to be given the Sun Devils’ full attention.

The Conference Boogeymen

It may no longer be a Stanford program fronted by Andrew Luck, Christian McCaffrey and Jim Harbaugh, but the Cardinal are as dangerous to the aspirations of their opponents as ever. Since a Week 1 loss to Kansas State, the Cardinal are 3-1, and last week dealt a major blow to then No. 3 Oregon’s playoff hopes with a 31-24 overtime victory.

Arizona State is coming off its best win of the season, but must be wary about its upcoming opponent. In a conference that is full of terror for capable contenders, Stanford is the monster under the bed, the slasher at the window, and the ghoul in the mirror.

It is axiomatic to say the Sun Devils need to be on high alert for this game. But Herm Edwards referenced that his team struggled to focus ahead of the 2019 trip to UCLA which ended in a loss. On Saturday night, the Sun Devils responded with their most crisp performance of the season. They’ll need to reprise that attitude Friday night, lest they become the next victim to the Cardinal.

Big McKee on Campus

Freshman quarterback Tanner McKee towers over his competition at 6-foot-6, and has already passed for over 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns with zero picks.

Matt Corral at Ole Miss has received some Heisman hype early on due to his performance and the Rebels record. McKee is the only other Power Five quarterback with at least 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He may be on the fringe of Heisman contention because of his team’s record, but McKee at least deserves a couple sentences in the conversation if his strong play continues.

It can be easy to view McKee as a quarterback coming out of nowhere, but this is not the Josh Allen story. McKee was the cleanup hitter in a 2018 quarterback recruiting lineup of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and J.T. Daniels. He is just now a freshman because he took two years away from football to serve his LDS mission in Brazil.

He is not scared of big moments, or big teams. Last week, he stared down the vaunted Oregon defense and led his team on a remarkable 11-play, 87-yard, two-minute drill to tie the game. He is the best true passer the Sun Devils have faced, and potentially will face, this season.

Cut Down the Stanford Dominance

Program psychology is a real thing. If a certain school has lost to a frequent opponent school for x amount of years in a row or some lopsided number out of the last several meetings, it bleeds into the psyche of the players trying to reverse the trend.

During Stanford’s program resurgence in the previous decade, they owned Arizona State. Head coach David Shaw is 4-1 against the Sun Devils, and the Cardinal have won six of the last seven matchups.

Those Stanford teams were loaded with future fantasy football first round draft picks, no longer. The Sun Devils are now the better team on paper. Another performance out of their defense like the second half against UCLA, and the Sun Devils will head to Utah still undefeated in the conference.