ASU Football: Best, average and worst case scenarios against Stanford

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 06: Quarterback Manny Wilkins #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 6, 2018 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 06: Quarterback Manny Wilkins #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 6, 2018 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

ASU football and Stanford return from bye weeks for a Thursday night matchup in Tempe. Here are three scenarios that could play out tonight.

There comes a point in a football season where reflection is essential. But after that, thoughts off the field must turn into actions on it.

For Arizona State, that time would be now. The Sun Devils hold a 3-3 record (1-2 Pac-12), and to have a shot at a bowl berth, they’ll need to make the most of the six games ahead.

Thursday night kicks off a stretch of three home games in the next four weeks. The opponent is Stanford, who hopes for a healthy Bryce Love following back-to-back double-digit defeats.

It helps to face a struggling opponent, but the Sun Devils can’t afford to sit back. They have their own issues to cure, including a poor run defense, unbalanced offense, questionable game management and figuring out how the heck to get N’Keal Harry the ball.

There won’t be a lot of room for error. But that doesn’t mean they can’t figure this thing out. Let’s take a look at three results ASU could draw tonight.

Best Case Scenario: No Place like Home

The Sun Devils look rejuvenated in their return home, swarming Stanford with the “maroon monsoon” that results in a double-digit victory.

Eno Benjamin secures his fourth consecutive week of over 100 rushing yards, giving Herm Edwards and Rob Likens credence for continuing a run-first offense.

The passing game isn’t forgotten, however, as Manny Wilkins throws for over 250 yards and three scores with zero turnovers. Harry gets a breakout game and silences comparisons to the Cardinal’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

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Two weeks after saying “I’ll quit” if his defense didn’t improve in two years, the ASU defense accelerates Danny Gonzales‘ process by limiting Love and Stanford runners to under 100 yards for the first time since week two.

It’s also a great week for the Sun Devil front seven as they constantly pressure K.J. Costello, who hasn’t received protection of late from his offensive line. The effort gives ASU an advantage on third down and time of possession, two key points they addressed in the bye week.

ASU is 4-0 at home with confidence for the second half of the year. That’ll be necessary for a visit to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where a key game could be waiting against USC.

Average Case Scenario: Squeaking Out a Win

This is a game the Sun Devils can’t afford to lose. Thus, a close win must be the result for the game to receive favor.

In this result, ASU is bugged by the same stories that derailed them before the bye. Love explodes after a two-week absence, Stanford’s receivers torch the secondary and the Sun Devils have lulls in multiple offensive drives.

But they find a way to get the job done.

The difference in this game is the ASU crowd, which gives the Sun Devils life in a second-half comeback like the Michigan State game. Benjamin is eliminated from the offensive gameplan, but Wilkins delivers a poised pocket presence and spikes his completion percentage in the third quarter.

The Sun Devils tie the game late in the fourth, putting pressure on Stanford to silence the crowd noise. When needed most, the ASU defense steps up, picking up stops on three consecutive drives to give the offense a chance to win in the closing minutes.

It’s hard to compare basketball and football, but the win feels similar to ASU’s hoops’ two-minute rush to defeat USC in Tempe last year. It shouldn’t have happened, but hey, we’ll take it.

Worst Case Scenario: Division Hopes (For Sure) Over

It’s hard to kill hopes when there’s still a chance. But if the Sun Devils lose to Stanford, a potential Pac-12 South title would be eviscerated.

The theme in this scenario is all to familiar. Love takes off for his best game of the season, swerving through ASU tackles and gaps like he’s taking a run in the park.

His dominance puts the Cardinal up by three scores by the second quarter, and with the Sun Devil offense showing little diversification in consecutive three-and-outs, they can’t save what’s destined to be a blowout.

Edwards and his staff start to feel fire from failed improvement. With another disappointing defeat, more questions rise. That’s not the recipe for a growing program.

At the end of the day, Stanford could be the better team on Thursday night. But it wouldn’t excuse a night where the Sun Devils took a step backward.

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A blowout is doubtful, but even a close defeat would mirror issues of old. If ASU couldn’t figure things out after a bye week, it’d be hard to know if they ever could in 2018.