When you get manhandled not once but twice in the course of a football season, you might be thinking about revenge.
That’s not the case, according Jaelen Strong, whose ASU team was pounded by Stanford last season
“People on the campus talk about wanting payback,” Strong told Tom FitzGerald of SFGate.com. “I guess you could say that. We can’t focus on that. We just want to win.”
The question for the 17th-ranked Sun Devils is how.
The Cardinal dominated ASU 42-28 in September in Palo Alto and turned in a very similar performance in December in the Pac-12 Championship Game, downing the Devils 38-14.
But that was last year. Stanford has already lost twice this season, dropping decisions to USC and Notre Dame.
For Arizona State, most of the players on the defensive side of the ball didn’t play in either game against the Cardinal last season. In fact, only seven of the 22 players on ASU’s two-deep defensive depth chart saw action in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Only two of them — linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Demarious Randall — started.
What to Watch For
• Taylor Kelly’s availability – You’ve gotta love the gamesmanship that’s still allowed to prevail when it comes to injury information in college football. Kelly broke a bone in his foot in the third game of the season against Colorado and has been on the sidelines ever since. There have been rumblings coming out of Tempe that he could see action Saturday. Kelly hasn’t spoken to the media this week, adding to the speculation that he could take some snaps against Stanford.
“Really the whole deal is if he’s ready to play or not,” ASU head coach Todd Graham told Doug and Wolf Friday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “He’s practiced, but he’s been limited. “We’ve just got to make sure we don’t put him in a bad situation. Right now, if we played (Thursday) Mike Bercovici would start.
“We’ve got a practice (Friday) at 1:30 and we’ll see how it works. What I’ve said is that both quarterbacks will be available, how much Taylor plays depends on how much the doctors and myself feel he’s prepared.”
ASU’s offense has looked different with Bercovici at the helm, but it hasn’t been any less productive. ASU has averaged 583 yards of offense in its last two games, but almost 86 percent of it has come through the air. Kelly’s presence means a more diverse offensive game plan, even if he plays only a handful of series.
• Special teams – It’s a key every week, and seemingly an area of concern for the Sun Devils every week. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery is one of the most dynamic players in the country and needs to be keyed on for ASU to have a chance to win. The senior averaged 28 yards per kickoff return in two meetings last season, and the Sun Devils have allowed special teams touchdowns in each of the last two games.
“Special teams will be the determining factor in this game, I really believe that,” Graham said.
• Big plays – Stanford isn’t known for its explosiveness on offense, but they did use big plays to beat Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Cardinal averaged over 8.3 yards per play, had four runs of over 20 yards and pass plays of 34, 35, 42 and 78 yards in that contest.
One break for ASU — Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste, whose size and speed create a big matchup problem, will not play due to a concussion suffered against Washington State. Cajuste averaged over 37 yards per catch in the two games against the Sun Devils last season.
• The electrifying Montgomery – In the two matchups in 2013, Montgomery touched the ball a total of 15 times for 294 yards and scored four touchdowns. He’s averaging just 9.7 yards per reception so far this season, but has got to be licking his chops going against an inexperienced ASU defense.
• The return of D.J.? – ASU’s D.J. Foster hasn’t missed any time due to injury, but his effectiveness has been limited by Kelly’s absence. In the last two games, Foster has carried 19 times for 43 yards (2.3 yards per carry). The Sun Devils, by the way, are 13-4 during Foster’s career when he scores a touchdown.
Odds and Ends
• Stanford has held its last 29 opponents under 30 points, which is by far the longest streak in the country. The last Cardinal opponent to eclipse 30 was Arizona, who scored 48 in a six-point overtime loss to Stanford in 2012.
• The Cardinal have allowed only one rushing touchdown all season — USC’s Justin Davis scored on a 1-yard run in the Trojans’ 13-10 win in Week 2.
• This is only the third time in ASU history the Sun Devils are facing a ranked opponent for the third straight game.
• Pac-12 road teams are 15-4 this year in conference games.
• Since 1978, ASU leads the series with Stanford 16-13, but the Cardinal have won the last four meetings.
• Bercovici is the first player in history to throw for five touchdowns in a single game against USC.
• Hogan is 20-5 as Stanford’s starting quarterback.