(Photo: Courtney Pedroza/WCSN)
The No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils have operated under the mantra of “unfinished business” in 2014 and that’s mostly due to the Stanford Cardinal stopping them from finishing their perceived business with two defeats, including one in the Pac-12 Championship.
Just three days remain until ASU will have their chance at avenging those losses, but when the two teams face each other, it will feature very different units than the ones that battled in December for conference supremacy.
While ASU features much of the same offensive talent, the role that quarterback Taylor Kelly will play has yet to be determined. Defensively, both ASU and Stanford lost several experienced players and have many new faces in the starting lineup. But the Cardinal offense isn’t immune to season turnover either.
Stanford’s changing identity
ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson spoke to the media on Wednesday and didn’t sound overly impressed with Stanford’s offense through the first six games of the season. While he complimented the team on its improved performance against Washington State last week, Patterson said the team doesn’t have the same look as the one that earned a trip to the Rose Bowl a year ago.
“Their identity is a little bit different than it was a year ago,” Patterson said. “There was pretty much no surprise on what you were gonna get… They’d just over power people. Where now you see them, they’re spreading the ball around.”
After finishing 2013 with the 18th most rushing yards in the nation, Stanford has the 85th most in 2014. While the rushing yardage has declined, the Cardinal offense has averaged 40 more passing yards per game in 2014 than in 2013.
Much of that has to do with attempts by the team to get the ball in the hands of senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery. The Biletnikoff Award hopeful has 37 receptions, 14 carries, nine punt returns and nine kick returns so far in 2014.
“[Montgomery] has big play capability every single play offensively,” Patterson said. “I think that’s the biggest difference is that you see them moving him around more, trying to get plays and opportunities for him to get his hands on the ball.”
Still, despite the changing offensive philosophy at Stanford and the team’s struggles to consistently find the endzone, Patterson raved about the team’s maturity as a unit.
“Some people just motion to motion, some people shift to shift. These guys understand why they’re shifting,” Patterson said. “They’ve got a very good understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish by doing that.”
The focus for ASU to combat that is continued growth from young players who have struggled with missed tackles at times.
“When you’ve got a young defense, there’s a lot more thinking going on,” Patterson said. “So therefore when you’re thinking during a play you’re not running to the football. We’ve got to get more people running to the football which will also eliminate some of the missed tackles.”
The First-Team Defense:
Defensive Line: Marcus Hardison (DE), Jaxon Hood (Tiger), Mo Latu (Nose), Demetrius Cherry (DE)
Linebackers: Antonio Longino (WILL), Salamo Fiso (MIKE), DJ Calhoun (SPUR/SAM)
Cornerbacks: Lloyd Carrington (Field), Kweshi Brown (Boundary)
Safeties: Damarious Randall (Field), Jordan Simone (Bandit).
During the defensive install portion, the team practiced some nickel sets and worked heavily on rotation. Armand Perry came in as nickel corner, and Ami Latu, Tashon Smallwood, Edmond Boateng, Carlos Mendoza and Laiu Moeakiola all took some reps.
-Taylor Kelly is still wearing a green, no contact jersey at practice, but he looked better at planting and pivoting off his injured right foot for throws. He didn’t do all the mobility drills that the other quarterbacks did, but he worked in more drills than he had in prior practices and looked comfortable doing so. He did, however, go get his right foot and ankle wrapped in the first few minutes of practice.
-Laiu Moeakiola is also still wearing a green jersey, although he took reps with the defense at SPUR, rotating with DJ Calhoun. Ami Latu, who wore a green jersey with Moeakiola last week, isn’t wearing it anymore, although his knee is still heavily wrapped.
-When Todd Graham isn’t working with the defense in practice, the majority of his time in practice has been spent working directly with punter Matt Haack. Graham has spoken about the importance of Haack against a dynamic returner like Montgomery, and he’s taking it upon himself to make sure the punter is prepared for Saturday.