One tough game down, three to go.
That’s the road map for the 23rd-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils. After beating defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin in controversial fashion last Saturday, the Devils hit the road for the first time this season to take on defending Pac-12 champ and fifth-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto.
Head coach Todd Graham knows of the challenge that awaits his football team in the Bay Area.
“Stanford is a lot better football team than the team we played last week,” Graham told Doug and Wolf Friday morning on Arizona Sports 620. “But if we will take care of the football, 100 percent ball security and not beat ourselves in the kicking game, I have all the confidence in the world that our team can win this game.”
Stanford, coached by David Shaw, is off to a 2-0 start with wins over San Jose State and Army. They employ a very similar style to what Wisconsin presented last week vs. the Sun Devils. But there’s more to it, according to Graham.
“Discipline, character,” Graham said when asked about what comes to mind when he thinks of the Stanford program. “I tell people there’s been smart people going to Stanford for years, it’s a great academic school, but they haven’t always won football games.
“But what Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and Coach Shaw, the program that they’ve put in there is one that basically has the same values and ideals that I believe in, so they’re the benchmark right now.”
It’s no mystery to what Stanford will do offensively Saturday. They’re going to use the power running game with fullback Ryan Hewitt leading the way for tailback Tyler Gaffney. Through their first two games, the Cardinal have run the ball on 75 of 124 (60.5 percent) offensive plays.
“What they do is they force people…if you’re not smart and you’re not disciplined and you don’t understand how to adjust a formation and how to line up, they’re going to take advantage of you,” Graham said. “It’s all about out-numbering at the point of attack, getting people misaligned.”
Despite Stanford’s impressive credentials, Graham is expecting a tightly-contested battle Saturday.
“The difference could be one play, I think special teams is going to be big and we’ve got to play a lot better there and not make the mistakes,” he said. “It’s gonna be a heck of a game and one that I am so grateful to get an opportunity to coach in games like this and lead a team like we have, because we’ve got a really good football team and it’s going to be two really good teams going at it.”