Devils Den Blog

Preview: The Pac-12 Championship vs. Stanford 10-2 (7-2 Pac-12)


Key WinsArizona State 10-2 (8-1 Pac-12), Washington 8-4 (5-4 Pac-12), UCLA 9-3 (6-3 Pac-12), Oregon 10-2 (7-2), Notre Dame 8-4

Key Losses: Utah 5-7 (2-6 Pac-12), USC 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12)

NFL Draft Prospects: DE Trent Murphy, OG David Yankey, ILB Shane Skov, DE Josh Mauro, FB Ryan Hewitt , RB Tyler Gaffney, DE Ben Gardner, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Anthony Wilkerson, CB Barry Browning, CB Usua Amanam, QB Kevin Hogan, WR Ty Montgomery

What a week it was for the Sun Devil football team. The Sun Devils entered the week at No. 12 in the BCS Standings, with a chance to host the Pac-12 Title Game if they defeated the Arizona Wildcats, their arch rival from the South who had beaten then-No. 5 Oregon the week before, and kept the Territorial Cup in Tempe.

The game opened with a sellout crowd in attendance, and the Sun Devils receiving the kickoff after Arizona won the toss and deferred. ASU drove down to the Wildcats’ 21-yard-line, but the drive stalled there and Zane Gonzalez hit the 38-yard field goal to give ASU a 3-0 lead. UA had a three-and-out on the next drive, then, on fourth down, punter Drew Riggleman punted the ball a whopping 12 yards to give ASU the ball at the Arizona 24. The Sun Devils got the ball to the four-yard-line, but again, could not finish the drive and looked as if they were seriously missing running back Marion Grice, who was out with an injury. Gonzalez came out and hit a 21-yard chip shot to give ASU a 6-0 lead. UA held the ball for 2:12 before punting again and gave ASU the ball at their own 20. The Sun Devils then drove 80 yards in seven plays that took 2:16 off the clock and was highlighted by a 38-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to tight end Darwin Rogers to give ASU a 13-0 lead. The first quarter ended during UA’s next drive.

The Wildcats went for it on 4th and 1 two plays into the second quarter, but running back Ka’Deem Carey was stopped seven yards behind the line of scrimmage by Devil backer Carl Bradford and ASU took over at their own 47. 1:23 later, the score stood at 20-0 after running back D.J. Foster ran in from 14 yards out for another Sun Devil touchdown. UA went for it on 4th and 1 again the next drive and Carey was again stopped, but this time for no gain. ASU’s next drive resulted in a three and out, and UA took over at their own 17. Quarterback B.J. Denker was then intercepted on second down by safety Alden Darby, who gave ASU the ball at UA’s 31. De’Marieya Nelson would rush in for a touchdown two minutes later and ASU expanded their lead to 27-0. UA would get on the board on their next drive, as Denker ran in for a touchdown to make the score 27-7. ASU would punt, and UA would drive down to the ASU 25, but be stopped there. UA kicker Jake Smith would miss the 42-yard field goal and ASU would take over and drive down to UA’s six-yard line, and Gonzalez hit a 23-yard field goal to give the Sun Devils a 30-7 advantage, which they would take into halftime.

The Wildcats got the ball to start the second half, and drove right down the field and Carey scored from eight yards out to make the score 30-14. The Wildcats gained some momentum as they forced the Sun Devils to punt on the resulting drive. All that momentum was taken away when ASU safety Demarious Randall intercepted Denker and took the ball back 64 yards for a touchdown and a 37-14 lead. The teams traded punts and then UA used 1:42 to drive 68 yards and score on a fluky play. Denker scrambled and was about to score when Randall knocked the ball out of Denker’s hands and into the air. UA wide receiver Garic Wharton grabbed the ball out of the air at the four-yard-line and ran it in for a TD to make the score 37-21. ASU did not let the play bother them, as Kelly hit wide receive Jaelen Strong for a 61-yard touchdown on the next drive and gave the Sun Devils a 44-21 lead. UA would fumble the ensuing kickoff and the third quarter would end during ASU subsequent drive.

Four plays into the fourth quarter, Foster would run in from the seven for yet another Sun Devil touchdown, which gave ASU a 51-21 lead. Carey would get stopped on 4th and 1 again on the next drive, before the teams traded interceptions, with Kelly being intercepted by cornerback Jonathan McKnight and Denker by cornerback Osahon Irabor. After Irabor’s pick, ASU would drive down the field and Nelson would score his second touchdown of the day, a one-yard rush to give ASU a 58-21 lead, which would end up being the final score.

ASU won the Territorial Cup, in convincing fashion, for the second straight year and earned the right to host No. 7 Stanford Cardinal in the Pac-12 Championship Game by virtue of a better conference record. Now, let’s take a look at Stanford’s season.

The Cardinal opened the season at No. 4 in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls, but dropped down to No. 5 before they welcomed the San Jose State Spartans to Stanford Stadium, aka: the Farm. Stanford dispatched the Spartans, who had almost upset them the season before, 34-13.

The next week, the Cardinal took a trip to West Point, New York to play the Army Black Knights. In a game that was extremely close until the very end, Stanford won 34-20.

The Cardinal’s Pac-12 schedule began the next week, as the No. 23 Arizona State Sun Devils came to the Farm, riding high after a big victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. The Cardinal sent the Sun Devils packing after winning 42-28, a game that was not as close as the final score indicates.

The Cardinal went to Seattle next, but not to play the hometown Washington Huskies, but to take on Washington’s Apple Cup rivals, the Washington State Cougars at Century Link Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinal blew out a team for the second straight week, as they dispatched the Cougars 55-17.

The aforementioned  No. 15 Huskies would take the trip down to Palo Alto, Calif., to take on the Cardinal the next week. The Huskies would play perhaps their best game of the season, but lost by three, 31-28.

The Cardinal would take a trip to Salt Lake City next, but it would not be a pleasant trip. Utah played their absolute best game of the season as they sent the Cardinal to their first defeat, 27-21. The loss sent the Cardinal down to No. 13.

The Cardinal had little time to rebound as they welcomed then-undefeated and No. 9 UCLA Bruins came to Palo Alto the next week. Stanford was able to come back however, and sent the Bruins to their first defeat, 24-10.

A trip to Corvallis, Ore., to play the Oregon State Beavers came next for Stanford, who had risen back up to No. 8. The Beavers kept it close, but could not defeat the Cardinal, as Stanford won 20-12.

The game that everyone had been talking about since the final whistle blew at the Rose Bowl last season was up next as the No. 3 Oregon Ducks came down to the Farm to meet up with the Cardinal. In a game that took a physical and emotional toll on both teams, the Cardinal prevailed, 26-20, and moved up to No. 4.

Riding high on the emotion of beating the Ducks, Stanford took a trip down to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans who had been playing much better since head coach Lane Kiffin was fired at LAX after losing to Arizona State, 62-41, and interim head coach Ed Orgeron took over. The Cardinal did not give the Trojans the respect they deserved, and USC upset the Cardinal, 20-17.

Stanford and their fans now thought that their Pac-12 Championship hopes, and thus, hopes of making back-to-back appearances in the Rose Bowl were finished because of the loss to the Trojans, but that was not to be the case. The next week, Stanford welcomed the Cal Golden Bears to the Farm for the Big Game, and destroyed the overmatched Bears, 63-13. That same day, the Oregon Ducks took a trip down to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats, and lost, giving Stanford the Pac-12 North Title. Arizona State also beat UCLA that Saturday to win the South and set up a rematch between the Cardinal and the Sun Devils on Dec. 7. The site of the game would be determined the next week, and as we know, ASU beat Arizona to bring the Pac-12 Championship to Tempe.

In the final game of the regular season, the Cardinal welcomed the No. 25 Notre Dame Fighting Irish to Palo Alto, the first time the two teams had seen each other since Notre Dame stopped Stephan Taylor short of the goal line in triple overtime to keep their undefeated season going in 2012. The Cardinal and Irish played a classic, but due to two late interceptions from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, the Cardinal won 27-20.

That brings us to the present day, where we wait for Stanford and Arizona State to meet up on the gridiron for the second time this season, but this time at Frank Kush Field at Sun Devil Stadium at 5:45 pm MST on ESPN.

As I noted above, the initial meeting between the Cardinal and Sun Devils did not end well for the boys from Tempe. The Cardinal opened the game by jumping out to 29-0 halftime lead, which was expanded to 39-7 by the end of the third, before ASU showed some fight by scoring 21 points in the final stanza before time ran out and the Cardinal emerged victorious.

This time around, we have completely different teams meeting on the field. Now, the personnel are generally the same, but the way that these teams are playing is what makes them so different. ASU lost one other game this season, to Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Oct. 5. Since that day, the Sun Devils have won seven straight games with a revamped defense that features Davon Coleman in the middle of the defensive line with now two-time Pat Tillman Pac-12 defensive player of the year Will Sutton. Meanwhile, in that same time, Stanford has lost two games, to two unranked teams, both of which ASU has defeated this year.

When it comes to what the Sun Devils will have to do to win the game, it is much like what they had to do against Arizona. Of the 4853 yards that Stanford has gained on offense this season, 2502 yards (51.55%) have come on the ground. Stanford has quite the pair of impressive running backs with Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson getting a majority of the carries. If ASU can stop them as effectively as they have stopped pretty much all of the running backs they have faced since the Notre Dame game, and corral star wide receiver Ty Montgomery to slow the Cardinal pass offense, and keep quarterback Kevin Hogan in the pocket, as they did with Keith Price and Denker, then ASU should be fine defensively. Offensively, ASU struggled against the Cardinal in September, but really showed that they can move the ball on this defense when they had the 21-point fourth quarter. Getting off to a fast start and jumping out to a big lead, as they did against Arizona, will be key for the Sun Devils. If they can do that, and score at least their season average of 43.2 points, then Sun Devils fans should expect Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils to be holding the Pac-12 Championship Trophy at the end of the game and then head to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2014.

Having home field advantage with a likely sold-out Sun Devil Stadium and an extremely excited student section won’t hurt their chances, either.

Prediction: ASU 45, Stanford 38

About Jeff Vinton

Jeff Vinton is a sophomore journalism and mass communication major at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He was born and raised in Fort Collins, CO and graduated in 2012 from Fort Collins High School.

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