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Arizona State football is 70 days away from its season opener, and 121 days from its Week-7 matchup against Stanford.
The Cardinal is a team that has struggled the last few years to find success. The Sun Devils will be the favorites going into this matchup, but any team coached by Stanford’s David Shaw should be taken seriously.
The Cardinal is led by junior quarterback Tanner McKee. At 6 feet 6, McKee is one of the bigger quarterbacks in the conference, and he boasts all of the physical traits to be a dangerous player. Even so, McKee put up rather pedestrian numbers in 2021, throwing for 2,327 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“We want him to take that next step,” Shaw said in an interview with the Pac-12 Network prior to the Stanford spring game. “He’s had an outstanding spring. He hasn’t had his top targets at receiver or tight end, but he’s had a really good spring. But for him I want him to jump on a national stage. We think he’s that talented, we think he’s that good, we think he’s got that kind of group around him.”
The key to Stanford’s season will be McKee’s development from last season to this year, and that should be the difference maker for Arizona State in this matchup. McKee is unproven, whereas ASU’s redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones has proven himself against SEC competition.
It’s yet to be seen how Jones meshes with the Arizona State receiving corps, but the talent was on display when Jones was a Florida Gator. Jones nearly helped Florida upset No. 1 Alabama. There were other games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt where Jones and the offense dominated from start to finish.
He’ll be asked to do the same thing against Pac-12 opponents. Stanford isn’t a threat in the conference this season, given the program’s lack of real weapons. The Cardinal hasn’t displayed a true offensive star since the departure of running back Bryce Love years ago.
The one potential strength for Stanford is the return of all five starting offensive linemen, but it’s only a positive if that unit improves from a season ago.
The Stanford offensive line allowed McKee to be sacked 24 times in 2021, and the unit displayed a consistent inability to create space for its running backs. The Sun Devils defense accounted for five sacks in last season’s meeting between these two schools. It was the most sacks that the Stanford offensive line gave up in a game in 2021.
If there’s one player on the Sun Devil defense that should have a field day against the Cardinal, it’s graduate student defensive lineman Nesta Jade Silvera. Silvera is far from a sack machine, but given his size at 306 pounds, he plays a giant role in disrupting opposing offensive lines. Similar to Jones, Silvera, who transferred from Miami, is coming from a dominant Power 5 conference in the ACC. He’s been up against far larger offensive line groups than the Cardinal, and that experience should be on display come Oct. 22.
In terms of the Stanford defense, there has been a lot made of freshman edge rusher David Bailey. Shaw called Bailey the best pass rusher on the West Coast, which is a big statement given the fact Bailey has yet to face real college competition.
It has been well documented that the Arizona State offensive line is a mix of transfers. It’ll be up to that unit to slow down arguably the best player on the Stanford defense. If Bailey is handled, there’s not really any other threat on the Cardinal defense that figures to disrupt Jones in the pocket.
The Cardinal defensive line isn’t what it used to be. ASU redshirt running back Daniyel Ngata should have his way with the interior of Stanford’s defense. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, Shaw’s teams aren’t built around the star power they had years ago, and that should work in ASU’s favor.