GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Stanford Cardinal head to Tempe for the first of back-to-back Pac 10 Conference road tests this weekend, as the team challenges the Arizona State Sun Devils.
One of the top scoring teams in the nation, ranked fifth with a staggering 42.3 ppg, Stanford its shooting for its fifth straight win and the ninth in 10 tries in 2010 and also tries to keep top-ranked Oregon from completely running away with the league title. Since bowing to the Ducks back on October 2nd by a score of 52-31 in Eugene, Stanford has defeated every opponent in its way. Last weekend the team, which is now sixth in the BCS rankings, dismantled Arizona at home in a 42-17 final.
“I told the team that I thought it was our best game,” Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh noted after the lopsided win. “Offensively, defensively, special teams. I thought they played very smart, disciplined football.”
As for the Sun Devils, hosting the first of two straight at home before closing out the regular season at rival Arizona, they’ve been somewhat exposed since opening the year with consecutive wins against Portland State and Northern Arizona. Most recently the team had a chance to take down USC on the road, but the Trojans got the last laugh in a 34-33 decision in Los Angeles. The defeat was the second in the last three games for an ASU team that needs to win two of the last three on the schedule just to become bowl eligible.
Arizona State leads the all-time series between the two schools by a count of 16-10, capturing 10 of the 13 games played at home versus the Cardinal. However, after winning three straight over Stanford, the Sun Devils were tripped up last year in a 33-14 final in California.
Andrew Luck completed 23-of-32 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinal in the win over 13th-ranked Arizona. However, as efficient at the signal-caller may have been, the spotlight was even brighter on Stepfan Taylor who carried the ball 19 times for 82 yards and an impressive four touchdowns. Also, not to be ignored was receiver Chris Owusu who caught nine balls and traded them in for a game-high 165 yards and a score as well.
Defensively the Cardinal gave up 414 yards to one of the more productive programs in the country, but by forcing Arizona into fourth punts on its first five possessions the home team set the tone for the entire meeting and forced the Wildcats to take some risky chances that didn’t pan out. Delano Howell stood out for the group with his 11 solo tackles, while Richard Sherman added 10 stops and an interception.
“This was about trusting each other,” Howell said of his squad’s efforts. “When we trust each other, we’re able to focus on our own job and play together as a team.”
Luck, who was named the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Week on Monday, has made himself into a true Heisman candidate by not only converting 67.8 percent of his pass attempts for 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions, but by setting a new school rushing record for quarterbacks in a single season with 370 yards, leading to another three TDs on 43 attempts. Obviously Taylor is the one who handles the bulk of the ball carrying coming out of the backfield with his 810 yards and now 11 TDs, but it is still nice to know that Luck has the ability to transform himself into a running threat when the opportunity presents itself.
A starter in all nine games this season, Chase Thomas tends to attract a bit of attention when he hits the field for the Stanford defense, leading the group with five sacks and tying for the team lead with seven tackles for loss. Although, the Cardinal is much more than just Thomas with players like Howell and Sherman ready to take their shots at opponents as well.
The Sun Devils posted 33 points last Saturday night, yet that still wasn’t enough to take out the USC Trojans. ASU had a number of opportunities to work their way into the win column, but it simply wasn’t meant to be, even though quarterback Steven Threet threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns. The signal-caller was sacked four times and had a pair of passes picked off, while the running game for the Sun Devils stalled with just 116 yards and yet Threet still believes his backs are being productive.
“The O-line and backs have been doing a great job, and receivers have been blocking down field so the running game has been really good,” Threet noted in a press conference on Monday. “Its something that we have been working on, and will continue to help the offense.”
Certainly there were some positives for the Arizona State defense, specifically Omar Bolden’s 66-yard interception return for a touchdown, one of two picks by the squad of Matt Barkley. It also helped that the squad took down the USC QB four times for sacks, but in the end the Sun Devils could not keep the Trojans outside of scoring position for the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter.
The scoring defense has been up and down so far in 2010, going from allowing 50 points to California one week, to shutting out Washington State the next. Obviously the truth lies somewhere in the middle for a squad that is ranked fifth in the conference and 60th in the nation with 24.4 ppg allowed. The pass defense has taken most of the abuse, permitting 229.3 ppg, yet the squad has still come up with 10 interceptions.
Still learning on the job, Threet has seen the highs and lows of being a quarterback in the Pac-10, on one hand averaging 263.6 ypg while tossing 17 TDs and the other showing 15 interceptions by a QB who is has not accepted the art of throwing the ball away. Nevertheless, Threet still gives the team its best chance to win as he guides the second-best passing attack in the conference.
As one of the premier players in both the Pac-10 and the nation, Luck can’t allow himself to take a game like this too lightly. Expect him to come out strong and put the Cardinal on course for another lopsided victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stanford 49, Arizona State 27