First half is over, and football is now back.
It’s time for interim head coach Shaun Aguano and his Ohana to take the field after soaking in warmth of the upset-win they put on Washington two weeks ago. With some momentum and preparation, the hope is that the winning energy from that Saturday afternoon in Tempe is still percolating throughout the building.
ASU (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) is going to need to bottle up that energy and take it on the road to Stanford Stadium as they take on the Cardinal (2-4, 0-4 Pac-12) this Saturday.
Twelth-year head coach David Shaw’s Stanford team is coming off of a huge road win in South Bend where they beat Notre Dame 16-14. Notre Dame has been nothing short of cringy to watch in 2022, but the one-win Cardinal definitely shocked the home crowd with an upset.
So, it’s the battle of the 2-and-4’s. Not much has gone right for either of these teams so far this season, but an upset win for each of them in their last games might provide some juice to both sidelines in this matchup.
With that being said, let’s take a look at who can potentially give ASU’s defense some trouble if the front four doesn’t get downhill quick.
Watch for: Casey Filkins, RB
Shaw’s offense this year has consisted of a well balanced diet of run and pass. It all revolves around the run-pass option between quarterback Tanner McKee and running back Casey Filkins.
Filkins, a 5-foot-11-inch junior out of Oregon, is fifth in the Pac-12 in both total rushing yards and yards per-game. At just under 72 yards per-game, Filkins makes his living off of a “slow mesh” RPO that develops at the pace you would expect.
McKee will take the snap out of the shotgun with Filkins on either side of him, put the ball right in his belly for approximately three seconds (which is an eternity in football) before he reads the defensive backs and decides whether or not to throw the ball. A lot of the time, that ball will be handed off.
McKee’s sixth in the Pac-12 in passing at 1,537 yards this year on just under 200 attempts. 10 touchdown passes through six games isn’t a crazy number but the red zone area has really been dominated by the ground game for this offense.
Once the ball is his, Filkins has the ability to weave his way through the line of scrimmage and bounce it to the outside. He struggles, however, taking the ball up the gut with the weakness of Stanford’s interior O-line.
ASU and Stanford are near the bottom of the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed, so look for the running backs to play a big part in this contest. Don’t, however, lose the guy that put up huge numbers against the Sun Devils in 2021.
Watch for: Benjamin Yurosek, TE
His numbers last season were very impressive as a sophomore, and it’s not really adding up as to what has held him back so far this season, but Ben Yurosek can be a monster if he gets open. Yurosek is 6-foot-4-inches tall, and 242 lbs of pure “gains” as we say in the business.
While he’s only averaging 9.6 yards per catch on 18 receptions this year, the big man from Bakersfield was running all over the Sun Devil defense last year. Six receptions for 118 yards in that one.
Yes, Stanford lost. No, Yurosek didn’t get into the endzone. But, if you let him touch the ball, you better wrap up and get some help because he’s not going down easy.
He hasn’t scored yet this season, and it’s week eight. One would say he is due.
ASU has been respectable against the pass, outside of USC, sitting in the middle of the conference in yards allowed through the air. But, the tackling down field is a concern.
Yurosek is going to be a main target on those slow developing RPOs Shaw likes to call, and against the soft-shell zone the Sun Devils like to run Yurosek could see some serious action inside the numbers and the look out.
Now, if ASU wants to move the ball downfield the way they did against Washington a couple of weeks ago, there are two players that will have to be neutralized up front.
Watch for: Ricky Miezan, LB / Stephen Herron, DE
This Stanford team tends to give up a lot of points to competent offenses. In the four Pac-12 games the Cardinal have played, opponents have put up 38.5 points per game. That is the second most only to Arizona, so you know it’s bad.
But, the blitz combination of Ricky Miezan and Stephen Herron could cause frustration among ASU’s offensive line. The 6-foot-2-inch and 6-foot-3-inch senior defensemen have combined for 43 tackles, 5.5 sacks, almost 45 yards lost on those sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss.
Herron had a huge game against Notre Dame, collecting two sacks and a forced fumble in South Bend. He really seals the edge on stretch run plays that forces running backs to cut back up the field into a swarm of tacklers, including Miezan.
Miezan doesn’t have the flashiest or most rounded out stat line, but he has the ability to come up and stuff the run lane on the inside to allow the big boys to get their arms around the runner.
The Cardinal defense doesn’t really force turnovers, with only two interceptions and two forced fumbles on the season. They’ve really relied on the players’ to wrap up, gang tackle and get off the field. When they can’t do that, they typically lose.
It’ll be an interesting test for coach Aguano going up to Stanford after an improbable win against Washington, and coming off of the bye week. Aguano appears to have his guys all-in for the rest of the 2022 campaign.
We’ll see if that can translate into stringing victories together down the stretch in the second half of the year.