The “one week, one game at a time” mentality echoes around the nation every fall. With an early season loss, the mantra rings true for Arizona State, one of few teams that controls its own destiny in a conference known to collude against its current king.
“I learned this as a player, one of my coaches told me this, a high school coach actually, he said, ‘Every game is an important game and every game is a big game because that’s the only one you play.’ I learned this in high school,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “He said, ‘If you always have that mindset that every game is a big game, especially when you win, then when supposedly these other games, these bigger games — the game never gets bigger. It’s the same amount of time, just a different place.”
Week 3’s loss to BYU still has lasting effects in the Sun Devil locker room. When asked about what he sees from the Stanford offense in preparation for Friday’s clash, defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce replied bluntly:
“BYU all over again.”
There’s no doubt Pierce is referring to the scheme parallels between the two programs. But if you choose to read closer into it, the comment reinforces a less explicit thought: that Pierce and Edwards would not be out-prepared again, and they would not let the lights get too big for the players.
Following the beatdown of UCLA, the weekly blueprint is established. Now it needs to be replicated.
Last week, Jayden Daniels earned his first college win over a Southern California conference foe. This Friday, Edwards hopes to check a “first” box for himself. In his first three years as coach, Edwards’s Devils saw the Cardinal once, a 20-13 loss at home in October of 2018.
The Cardinal come into the dawn-of-the-workweek faceoff with the conference’s most valuable win of the year, a 31-24 overtime nail-biter in which Stanford bested No. 3 Oregon in Palo Alto.
Stanford, which came into the Oregon game with a bottom-third rated defense in the Pac-12, suffocated the Ducks in the first half. The Cardinal forced two turnovers and a punt on the first three Oregon drives, enough to get ahead by 10, which was also enough to withstand a second-half comeback from Oregon and force overtime.
For now, the Cardinal remain 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense at 404 yards allowed per game. The Sun Devils gain the most ground in the conference at over 440 yards per game.
Will the Cardinal parlay that defensive success into another impressive game against a quality opponent? It will depend on the Sun Devil passing game. Given that Stanford gives up over 400 yards a game, they actually are top of the pack in pass coverage, holding opponents to under 200 yards passing every week.
The kicker is that they are horrible against the run. Oregon ran the ball 54 times last week, with three rushers going for over 30 yards.
The fact of the matter is that ASU running back Rachaad White is Pro Football Focus’s ninth highest rated player in the conference, DeaMonte Trayanum is another week removed from injury, and Daniyel Ngata continues to grow. There is not a better team in the Pac-12 than ASU at using the run-game as the primary source of attack.
Sophomore Tanner McKee will take the snaps for the Cardinal at quarterback, and his connection with junior receiver Elijah Higgins is working out well. McKee and Higgins connected in the end zone three out of their first five games this year, including one in each upset over USC in Oregon.
While his numbers do not blow you away (still yet to throw for over 300 yards), McKee enters the ASU game without an interception to his name.
Friday will likely mark the return of Sun Devil safety Evan Fields back from injury. This will be the first time the entire starting secondary will be on the field together to start the game since the loss against BYU, an advantage for the Sun Devils.
The only common opponent between these two teams so far was UCLA. While the Devils took care of business on the road, Stanford succumbed to the Bruins in a 35-24 home loss.
College football is way too abstract for the transitive property, but on paper, it is the Sun Devils’s game to lose.