NCAA: AZ State Sun Devils Pac-12 Championship Preview
The Arizona State Sun Devils will host the Stanford Cardinal this Saturday in the Pac-12 Championship game. The game will be played at Sun Devil Stadium at Frank Kush Field in Tempe.
Some might say that this Pac-12 title game; while not between the elite teams predicted at the start of the football season will still be a game worth watching.
The game is an excellent matchup of highly ranked teams. Stanford is ranked #7 and they are the defending conference champions. They have appeared in three consecutive BCS bowl games. Arizona State is ranked #11 and has had a big turn-around in just two years under Coach Todd Graham. The turn-around has come as a bit of a surprise to some, but not to Coach Graham and his coaching staff. That success has earned Coach Graham the title of Pac-12 Coach of the Year. The Sun Devils are trying to get back to the Rose Bowl, where they have not been since1996.
The Sun Devils have been a much better team since its first game with Stanford this season. You can expect Saturday’s game to be much more competitive and not resemble the matchup that took place back on September. 21st. That was a 42-28 Stanford beat-down of the Sun Devils. While the Sun Devils did make a comeback in the fourth quarter; it was because Stanford inserted their backup players into the game. It was 39-7 before Stanford made their backups available. The win was the third straight for the Cardinal against the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils have become a more aggressive team since that game. You might say right now they are one of the hottest teams in college football and they are currently on a seven game winning streak. They have also won all seven games this year at Sun Devil Stadium.
In order for the Sun Devils to win this game they must first and foremost stop the Stanford running game. It is a power running game with a controlling offensive line. They rank fourth in the conference in rushing, with a 208 yards per game average. In the matchup with the Sun Devils in September they rushed for 240 yards and that did not include any 100 yard rushers. Tyler Gaffney, who is their feature running back, has rushed for 1485 yards and 17 total touchdowns.
If the Sun Devils can slow the Cardinal running game down, it will force Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan to throw the ball! He only had 17 pass attempts in the earlier match-up and he is not one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the Pac-12; but on the season, he has completed 61 percent of his pass attempts for 2,210 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Sun Devils have 36 sacks on the season, led by Carl Bradford and Davon Coleman, with 7.5 each and Chris Young has 6.5. Sacking Hogan will be a difficult task as the Cardinal offensive line has only surrendered 11, which is the fewest in the conference.
The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 in forced turnovers with 30, including five interceptions returned for touchdowns. Robert Nelson has 6 interceptions and will be counted on to cover Ty Montgomery who leads the Cardinal with 53 receptions and nine touchdowns. Also look for Alden Darby to play a significant role in this game as he will get a chance to come up and help stop the running game. He has 60 tackles and four interceptions on the year.
The Sun Devils allow 24.8 points and their opponents average 351 yards per game. This is an improvement over last year.
The Sun Devils are also ranked 5th nationally in least amount of penalty yards per game at 30.8. That is a sensational improvement from two years ago when they ranked 120th within the 125 Division 1 teams. They currently lead the Pac-12 as the least penalized team with a total of 44.
Taking on the Stanford defense isn’t going to be an easy task as they have some playmakers and only allow 19 points per game. Offensively the Sun Devils are averaging 43.2 points and 473.2 yards per game. Taylor Kelly has completed 62.6 percent of his passes with 27 touchdown passes. He also has rushed for 437 yards and 8 touchdowns. Once again Marion Grice is not expected to play so it will be up to DJ Foster to handle the bulk of the running. In his last game Foster had 124-yards rushing with two touchdowns and also had 26 yards receiving. Look for all purpose offensive specialist, De’Marieya Nelson, to play a bigger role in the power back feature as well.
Receiver Jaelen Strong, who is back in game form after an ankle injury, will be counted on again as the team’s main threat on the outside. He has 69 catches and seven touchdowns. Tight end Chris Coyle, with 28 receptions and 413 yards, to go along with four touchdowns, will be counted on as another trustworthy target.
We do know that Sun Devil Stadium will be packed with fans in maroon and gold and the Sun Devils are riding on some national spotlight momentum, but this game will be decided in the trenches as the weather forecasters are calling for rain. This game might come down to who has the ball last. I look for the Sun Devils to win a close game and gain a trip to the 2014 Rose Bowl.
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