10:30 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Arizona State -10.5, Over/Under: 52
Get ready to stay up late tonight with some Pac-12 action, as the Stanford Cardinal look to pull off yet another upset as they head to the desert to battle the (No. 22) Arizona State Sun Devils, from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. Though they’re generally regarded as arguably the most stable program within the conference, Stanford (3-2, 2-1 in Pac-12) could sure use some stability at the moment, or rather consistency, for this season has already seen it’s share of highs and lows. Simply put, when the Cardinal have been good, they’ve been GREAT, and when they haven’t… well, they’ve been rather flat. This is a team that After rallying back from an 0-2 start to finish a solid 4-2 in the pandemic-ridden campaign that was 2020, (Head Coach) David Shaw’s charges were expected to carryover that momentum into 2021, even though there were still some very clear questions that lingered from the previous year. How would they replace (former Quarterback) Davis Mills, who went 4-1 as the starter down the stretch, along with a host of playmakers in the passing game? Would the Defense, which ranked ninth in the league in total yards allowed (438.7), including a miserable 222.0 yards against the run (11th in Pac-12), mature with eight returning starters? Well, in regards to the game’s most important position, Stanford appears to be in good hands with (Sophomore) Tanner McKee (64.5%, 1,093 YDS, 7.9 Y/A, 11 TD, 0 INT), who has flourished in his first season as the Starting Quarterback. Returning from a Mormon mission, McKee has exhibited more maturity than your typical Sophomore, and with his towering frame (6-5, 228 lbs), strong arm and good athleticism, his ceiling is potentially the highest of any passer under Shaw since the days of Andrew Luck a decade ago. He completed 16-of-23 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another on the ground in the Cardinals’ coming out party, a stunning 42-28 evisceration of rival (No. 14) USC at the Coliseum, which was so profound that it cost (Trojans’ Head Coach) Clay Helton his job two days later. However, nothing was more eye-opening than last weekend’s thrilling 31-24 upset of (No. 3) Oregon in overtime; after racing out to a commanding 17-7 lead at intermission, Shaw’s troops were blasted in the third quarter as the Ducks ran off seventeen answered points to retake the lead late in the final period, though McKee proved clutch in driving the hosts downfield, finding (Junior Receiver) Elijah Higgins (22 REC, 273 YDS, 12.4 Y/R, 3 TD) for the game-tying touchdown as time expired. From there, the home side scored first on the opening possession of overtime, with McKee hitting (Sophomore Receiver) John Humphreys (13 REC, 205 YDS, 15.8 Y/R, 1 TD) for a 14-yard strike, while their Defense stopped the visitors on 4th & 8 to seal the upset. Last weekend’s victory was the school’s fourth against Oregon in which the Ducks were ranked within the Top-10 dating back to 2009. McKee finished the affair on 20-of-36 passing for 230 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers as the Cardinal overcame 414 total yards (including 228 via the run) to outlast the third-ranked team in the nation. Higgins and Humphreys accounted for ten receptions, 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while (fellow Wideout) Brycen Tremayne (20 REC, 245 YDS, 12.3 Y/R, 5 TD) hauled in another score along with three catches for forty-eight yards before being removed from the field via cart with an apparent leg injury. Furthermore, (Junior Tailback) Nathaniel Peat (42 CAR, 274 YDS, 6.5 Y/A, 2 TD) racked up ninety yards from scrimmage on sixteen touches, while (Senior Linebacker) Gabe Reid (24 TKL, 2 TFL, 0.5 SK, 1 INT, 2 PD) made the biggest impact on Defense with six tackles (one for loss), a half-sack and an interception of (Oregon Quarterback) Anthony Brown. Penalties proved to be a major factor in last Saturday’s contest, with the two sides accounting for twenty flags and a combined 158 yards, though a sizable ninety-nine of that total would be attributed to the visiting side. Now the question becomes how will Stanford react following such a seismic victory? After back-to-back outbursts away from the farm at Southern Cal (42-28) and Vanderbilt (41-23), the Cardinal fell flat in their return to Palo Alto against (No. 24) UCLA in a 35-24 defeat in which they couldn’t get their trusted ground game going, rushing for a meager sixty-seven yards on twenty-two carries. The Defense also had a bad day to boot, yielding a season-worst 467 total yards (251 versus the pass), which is another indication that despite that timely stop in OT against the Ducks, there is still plenty of room to grow for a unit that continues to get bludgeoned on the ground to the tune of 215.2 yards on 5.1 yards per carry. With that said, they’ll have an opportunity to add another scalp to their growing collection as they meet Arizona State, whom they’ve beaten in five of their last six meetings dating back to 2009, sporting a 3-1 record in this series under Shaw. Their last encounter was a narrow 20-13 victory on a Thursday night in Tempe back in 2018; after a veritable snooze-fest, the visitors exploded midway through the third quarter with back-to-back touchdown drives and break the game wide open. With the Pac-12 once again wide-open and already armed with a crucial victory over one of the favorites within the league, Stanford has set themselves up as the front-runner in the North Division, though they’ll need to find more consistency if they wish to conclude the season ranked within the Top-25 for the first time since 2017.
Meanwhile, there is a rising power in the Pac-12 South and it’s not USC, UCLA, or Utah, for Arizona State (4-1, 2-0 in Pac-12) stands poised to make the proverbial leap out west as they look like the favorite to represent the division in Las Vegas come December. Now in his fourth season leading his Alma Mata, (Head Coach) Herm Edwards is finally seeing the fruits of his labor, then again, that was also true during last season’s COVID-shortened run; though they only managed to play four games in 2020 in which they were just 2-2, the Sun Devils owned both the highest-scoring Offense (40.2) and stingiest Defense (23.2) in the conference, all the while posting a Plus-8 turnover differential, which was also first in the Pac-12. With fifteen starters returning to Tempe, ASU is facing legitimate expectations for the first time during the 67-year old’s second tenure with the program, for this very well may be the most talented outfit that the school has seen since it’s last Rose Bowl appearance all the way back in 1996. So how have they faired thus far, you ask? Well, the opening slate of opponents has been rather kind to the Devils, who apart from a disappointing slip at BYU (27-17) in which they attack absolutely imploded with four turnovers, have handled themselves well in responding properly after that defeat with convincing victories over the likes Colorado (35-13) and most recently (No. 20) UCLA, whom they hammered to the tune of 42-23 in Pasadena last weekend. After being forced to punt on their opening drive, Edwards’ charges would go on to score on their next five possessions, capped off by a 49-yard outburst courtesy of (Junior Tailback) Rachaad White (87 TCH, 550 YDS, 6.3 Y/T, 9 TD), who would find the end zone once more early in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. As they had in their previous five contests, Arizona State was once again successful on the ground, rushing for 181 yards and three touchdowns on thirty-one carries, with White and (fellow Tailback) Deamonte Trayanum (22 CAR, 119 YDS, 5.2 Y/A, 3 TD) rushing for sixty-nine and sixty-seven yards respectively, while (Sophomore Quarterback) Jayden Daniels (71.9%, 1,094 YDS, 9.6 TD, 4 TD, 3 INT) added another forty-five yards on six attempts. With that said, Daniels was the star of the show, with the highly-recruited Sophomore making play after play downfield; it was a significant performance for a variety of reasons, none more so than the fact that he was playing with a heavy heart following the death of his grandfather on Friday, leading the inspired youngster to complete 13-of-19 passes for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Four of his thirteen completions traveled at least forty-seven yards downfield, with (fellow Sophomore) Ricky Pearsall (17 REC, 239 YDS, 14.1 Y/R, 2 TD) benefitting on the receiving end of two of those deep balls, ending the affair with a career-high 132 yards and two scores, a 65-yard screen to square things away at 14-14 followed immediately by a 54-yard bomb to retake the lead in the second quarter. However, it wasn’t all fireworks courtesy of the Offense, for the Defense stepped up in the second half, particularly when they stopped (UCLA Quarterback) Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s rushing attempt on a key fourth & goal from the visitors’ 2-yard line. That play was timely for a unit that would go on to relinquish a season-worst 453 total yards, 218 of which came against the run, continuing a downward slide from the beginning of the campaign; with each passing week, the Sun Devils have allowed more rushing yards than the one before, and on the season have been gashed for an average of 181.7 yards on 4.1 yards per carry. This is something that Edwards and (Defensive Coordinator) Antonio Pierce need to get cleaned up, particularly with Stanford on deck; when they last met back in that aforementioned 2018 encounter in Tempe, the Cardinal controlled the affair on the ground, rushing for 127 yards on forty-three attempts, while the hosts were altogether wasteful in besting the visitors in total yardage (437-358) but committed three turnovers and were flagged seven times for a loss of eighty-six yards. With a win tonight, ASU will move to 5-1 for the first time under Edwards, though they have to hope for a better finish than the 8-5 mark that they earned in 2019 even if that’s been the best that they’ve managed to do since the early days of the Todd Graham era back in 2013-2014.