Stanford Preview

Joe Healey, Staff Writer
ASU Devils
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Both the Cardinal and the Sun Devils have experienced their fair share of peaks and valleys in this young 2017 season, but are entering their Saturday contest in Palo Alto with some momentum on their side. The road has certainly not been kind to ASU, but the Stanford squad they face this year is seemingly less imposing than previous seasons. Here is the breakdown of this matchup.

Stanford Offense

Entering the 2017 season, Stanford had uncertainty at quarterback as Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst split starts in 2016 with unspectacular results as the only 14 FBS teams had fewer total passing yards than the 2,056 the Cardinal accumulated last year.

Some believed Burns would opt to take a graduate transfer route to another school but chose to remain at Stanford, though Chryst was named the starter for the 2017 season.

Through four games, Chryst has thrown for 509 yards with a completion rate of 52.0% with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Rice, but his productivity has declined each week as he threw for 172 yards against USC and 72 against San Diego State. He completed 1-of-3 passes against UCLA for 12 yards before leaving due to injury.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Chryst appeared in 12 games and made the final six starts of 2016 – winning all six – and threw for 905 yards with 10 touchdowns and ran for 159 yards and two scores. Chryst threw for a season-high 258 yards and three touchdowns in Stanford’s win over Oregon last year.

In 10 career starts, Chryst has just the two previously noted games with more than 200 passing yards.

Chryst may miss Saturday’s game and if he does, the logical pick would be for redshirt freshman K.J. Costello,who replaced Chryst last weekend against UCLA, to make his first career collegiate start. Burns is listed as the team’s third quarterback and is unlikely to start over Costello on Saturday in the event Chryst is unavailable.

Costello, the No. 54 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class, completed 13-of-19 passes for 123 yards with two touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown last week against the Bruins.

On the season, Costello has thrown for 203 yards at a 64.3% completion rate with two touchdowns and no interceptions while gaining 40 rushing yards on three carries with two scores.

Different from the paltry passing performances the past year-and-a-third, Stanford’s rushing attack this year includes the nation’s premier rusher of the first four games as Bryce Love has stepped out of Christian McCaffrey’s shadow and into the spotlight with his nation-leading 787 rushing yards on 73 carries (10.8 avg.) with five touchdowns.

Love has been consistent and sensational, rushing 13 times for 180 yards and a score against Rice, then totaling 17 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown against USC, next posting 184 yards on 13 carries with two scores against San Diego State and most recently exploding for 263 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown against UCLA.

Despite playing behind All-American runner Christian McCaffrey his first two years, Love still showed outstanding promise as he rushed 131 times for 1,005 yards with five scores across the 2015-16 seasons – an excellent 7.7 yards-per-carry average that was a clear indicator of his playmaking skills.

Dynamic as Love has been as a runner, he hasn’t been used much as a receiver as he has just two receptions for five total yards.

Though Love gets virtually all the love on small and large scales, Cameron Scarlett has performed admirably as a backup as he has totaled 25 carries for 164 yards and six touchdowns, allowing him to lead the team in touchdown runs and placing him in a tie for eighth nationally in rushing touchdowns.

Coincidentally, Scarlett has thrived in Stanford’s two blowout wins as his six touchdowns are distributed evenly with three against Rice and three against UCLA. In Stanford’s two losses, Scarlett has only registered 19 net rush yards on nine total carries. He also has three receptions for 86 yards on the year.

Understandably, with the meager performances at quarterback, the receiving numbers are equally modest with Trenton Irwin as the team’s leading receiver with just 13 catches for 146 yards with one touchdown.

True freshman Connor Wedington ranks second with 12 receptions and third with 128 yards while J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has 129 yards including one touchdown on nine carries in three games.

Per usual, Stanford tight ends have been involved in the action as Dalton Shultz and true freshman Colby Parkinson tie for the team lead with two touchdown catches each.

Altogether, Stanford has four different pass-catchers to have recorded at least 100 total receiving yards on the year. By comparison, ASU has had five different receives notch 100-yard receiving games thus far in 2017.

The Cardinal offensive line from left to right figures to feature true freshman tackle Walker Little, guard David Bright, center Jesse Burkett, guard Nate Herbig and tackle A.T. Hall, a Phoenix-area native.

Stanford returns three full-time starters from last season as Burkett and Hall started all 13 games as a redshirt sophomore last year, Bright started 10 as a redshirt junior while Herbig started six of 13 games played as a true freshman in 2016. None of the four aforementioned linemen has a career start made before the 2016 season.

Little came to Stanford this offseason with massive expectations as a five-star member of the 2017 class and the No. 7 overall prospect (No. 2 offensive tackle).

Offense Summary

With uncertainty and a lack of potency at quarterback and the nation’s leading rusher in Bryce Love, it stands to reason that Stanford will work Love early and often and try to open options in the passing game with both the receivers and tight ends as targets.

ASU’s pass defense must prevent slipups that cause uncharacteristically impressive numbers out of the Cardinal aerial attack while also working to limit Love similar to how the Devils contained Royce Freeman last week – not how Arizona State allowed San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny to dominate.

Overall so far in 2017, Stanford’s offense has been truly one-dimensional as the Cardinal rank second in the Pac-12 and 16th in the nation by averaging 259.9 rushing yards per game but 11th in the league and 94th nationally by averaging 192.2 passing yards per game.

Stanford Defense

As usual, Stanford operates out of a 3-4 base defense with tackle Harrison Phillips surrounded by ends Eric Cotton and Dylan Jackson.

In an impressive feat for an interior lineman, Phillips is the team-leader so far with 30 tackles and ties for the team-high with 1.5 sacks. Cotton has posted 11 tackles including a team-best 2.5 for loss and shares the team-lead with Phillips with his 1.5 sacks, while Jackson has six total tackles including one for loss and a fumble recovery.

At linebacker, Peter Kalambayi and Mike Tyler start outside while Bobby Okereke and either Jordan Perez or Joey Alfieri will start inside.

Okereke ties for second on the team with 25 tackles, Perez ranks fifth on the squad with 17 tackles, Kalambayi has 15, Tyler 10 and Alfieri has three stops to his credit.

In the secondary, Justin Reid and Brandon Simmons start at safety with Quenton Meeks and either Alijah Holder or Alameen Murphy starting at cornerback.

Reid ranks second on the team with his 25 tackles and has a team-best two interceptions, while Meeks ranks fourth on the team with 20 tackles. Holder has chipped in 16 tackles, Simmons has 15 and Murphy has nine.

Defense Summary

Through four games, Stanford’s defense is a far cry from its usual level of dominance; in fact, the Cardinal are legitimately subpar on defense through the first third of the regular season.

In terms of conference rankings, Stanford ranks 10th in rushing defense (183.5), ninth in total defense (453.0) and pass defense (269.5) and eighth in scoring defense (25.8).

Phillips and Reid have shown playmaking skills, but the Cardinal have no true superstar talent on defense as they have had in droves over the bulk of head coach David Shaw’s tenure at Stanford.

Stanford has had the misfortune of facing the nation’s leading passer in UCLA’s Josh Rosen and the second-leading rusher in San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny as well as the elite skill talent at USC, but nonetheless the recently potent and diverse Sun Devil offense could have opportunities to shine Saturday afternoon, as this week the Cardinal will face one of the nation’s very best receivers in N’Keal Harry.

Stanford Special Teams

Kicker Jet Toner is a perfect 7-for-7 on the year thus far with a long of 40 yards, while punter Jake Bailey averages 44.6 yards on his 14 attempts. Toner is one of only two Pac-12 kickers not to have missed an attempt thus far, while Bailey ranks fourth in the league in punting average.

Cameron Scarlett and Connor Wedington are listed as options on kickoff returns, while diminutive Jay Tyler is posted as the top punt returner. Scarlett has taken the bulk of the kick return opportunities this year and averages 26.3 yards on 12 returns, while Tyler averages 7.8 yards on his nine punt returns.

Overall Summary

A venue that has been surprisingly haunted for ASU over the past several years, the Sun Devils have won just once at Stanford in the past 20 seasons. With the exception of Oregon, ASU has won at each Pac-12 venue at least once since the last time the Devils downed the Cardinal at Stanford in 2007. Additionally, ASU has lost eight consecutive road games in Pac-12 play and 10 of 11 road conference games starting with the fateful loss at Oregon State late in the 2014 season.

Both teams enter with an uptick of momentum after 1-2 starts as ASU defeated Oregon for the first time since 2004 and Stanford dominated conference foe UCLA by more than 20 points.

Despite being a three-score underdog, on paper, there are matchups that ASU can exploit as the Stanford defense has not proven to be its typically dominant self, while outside Love – as spectacular as he has been – there are no offensive threats that have shined thus far in 2017.

Quarterback play should be a greatly decisive factor in this game as ASU’s Manny Wilkins still needs to prove he can be consistent in Pac-12 play – especially on the road – while Keller Chryst, if available, has typically been the proverbial game manager and Costello is an unknown as a starter due to his redshirt freshman status.

ASU can pull off the upset if it is able to harness the grit it showed last Saturday against Oregon. However, the Sun Devils can easily return to losing ways if they slip into the pitfalls that have plagued this program on the road for the better part of two-and-a-half seasons.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

No Love for Love: ASU did an excellent job at limiting Oregon’s Royce Freeman last week. ASU did not do an excellent job of containing San Diego State’s Rashaad Perry in the season’s second game. The proverbial rubber match for the Devil defense against current national top-five rushers, Arizona State will gain a tremendous advantage if its able to at least limit the impact made by Stanford star rusher Bryce Love.

Allow No Breakout:Whether it’s the mildly effective Chryst or the first-time starter Costello at quarterback for Stanford, ASU cannot afford to allow either player to perform in an uncharacteristically productive fashion. Bryce Love is a known commodity and is more likely than not to have an impact performance, so the Sun Devils cannot allow the Stanford pass game to excel as well.

Compose and Distribute: The version of Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins that has been seen the past six quarters is a composed edition that spreads the football in ways virtually never seen during the entire 2016 season. What remains to be proven is whether Wilkins’ improvements are because of his own merits or the fact that ASU played two of last year’s poorest defenses in consecutive weeks in Texas Tech and Oregon. For ASU to grab a rare road win this Saturday, Wilkins will need to continue this recent trend of general calmness in the pocket and the newfound ability to spread the offensive wealth among multiple targets.

Familiar Faces

· Stanford OL A.T. Hall (Phoenix Brophy Prep), LS C.J. Keller (Phoenix Brophy Prep), CB J.J. Parson (Chandler Hamilton High School), CB Noah Thomas (Phoenix Brophy Prep), OL Casey Tucker (Chandler Hamilton High School) and OLB Lane Veach (Gilbert Perry High School) are all Arizona Natives

· Stanford OLB Lane Veach’s father Scott played football at ASU (1987-90) and his mother played basketball at ASU (1988-92)

· Stanford OL David Bright, OLB Curtis Robinson and WR Osiris St. Brown attended Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School, as did ASU OL Alex Losoya Stanford SS Treyjohn Butler attended Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Etiwanda High School, as did ASU LB Khaylan Thomas

· Stanford WR Trenton Irwin attended Valencia (Calif.) Hart High School, as did ASU QB Brady White

· Stanford TE Kyle McCombs attended Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco High School, as did ASU OL Zach Robertson

· Stanford RB Cameron Scarlett attended Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic High School, as did ASU OL Connor Humphreys

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