1) Defensive Alertness
It appears the Stanford offense will run whatever they think will give them an advantage. Recently, they have hung their hat on being a power running team between the tackles. For the most part, that trend continues this year. However, this season, the Cardinal brings a little more diversity. Coach David Shaw’s team is running a variety of formations and concepts including the pistol, zone-read, spread and, of course, the I formation Iso series. They do it with three tight ends or only one. They throw when they feel like it, they run when they feel like it. It just seems as if Stanford can adapt to any style that it thinks it can use to exploit the defense.
The ASU defense must stay on their toes and be alert for different looks. As the Wisconsin game proved, all you have to do is line up wrong, get out-leveraged, and the Stanford band is playing the fight song. Mistakes lead to touchdowns with these guys. It’s interesting that ASU plays Wisconsin and Stanford back to back. They are essentially the same team, except Stanford has a better quarterback.
2) Look For Mismatches in the Passing Game
The Stanford defense is solid. The Cardinal was best in the Pac-12 conference last year. They do not blow assignments, bust coverages or miss tackles. However, they do not have the overall team speed to keep up with the Sun Devils. ASU Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell needs to keep probing for matchup problems. Specifically, he must find out how and with whom, they will cover D.J. Foster, Deantre Lewis or Marion Grice when they line up in the slot position, the #3 position or even out of the backfield. That would be a huge advantage. The Sun Devils exploited that concept during the second quarter of the Wisconsin game. They need to look for more. Also, the quick passing game — hitches, stop/sit routes in space and slants — can cause problems for Stanford.
3) Offensive Tempo and Toughness
Having said that about the passing game, ASU needs to test Stanford in the running game. This year’s Cardinal defense has a little more “bend” than their defenses in the past couple seasons. And they’ve struggled at times stopping the run. Their defensive tackles in the 3-4 scheme they run are smaller than Wisconsin’s. Stanford hasn’t truly been tested yet. ASU needs to put pressure on them to see how good they really are. The tempo will play a key part in that test. 50 snaps per half could really stress the Cardinal D.
4) Get Legitimate Pressure on QB Hogan
Unlike Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, if given time to throw the ball, will pick the Sun Devils apart. ASU Coach Todd Graham and his defensive staff need to scheme up ways to get to the quarterback. They need to stunt, twist, blitz — anything they can do to turn the dogs loose and get pressure on Hogan from every direction.
5) Winning Mentality
Probably no real chance of the “hangover effect” to trap Arizona State this week. The Devils know what is at stake. They have the talent across the board to hang with — and beat — Stanford. Palo Alto isn’t really a hostile place to visit. ASU just has to take it to another level when it comes to discipline and alertness. It cannot have the mental errors on display vs Wisconsin (e.g., tackling, alignment, dropped passes, false starts). In this game, every mistake could cost points. Stanford does not typically overwhelm their opponents, they just wear them down. They are not particularly explosive. Rather, they are solid, efficient and tough in every aspect of the game. They rarely break down. So now it becomes a game of will. Who has the will to stay disciplined? Who has the will to concentrate and focus, even when they are tired, hot or discouraged? This is where coaching really comes into play — especially the head coach. It’s time to see if Coach Graham’s emphasis on discipline and toughness has been truly bought into by the players.