Pac-12 Championship: Stanford vs. Arizona State
What’s at stake?
The Pac-12 Championship is on the line when No. 7 Stanford (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) travels to Tempe to face the No. 11 ranked Arizona State (10-2, 8-1) in a rematch of a regular-season game. In the September 21 contest, the Cardinal jumped out to a 29-0 lead at half, holding on at the end 42-28. Stanford looks for its second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance. The Sun Devils haven’t been to the “Granddaddy of them all” since 1997, but are 7-0 at home this year.
Ice for Grice
Marion Grice, the famed senior running back, is officially out (leg) for the Pac-12 matchup, and will be replaced by sophomore D.J. Foster. In the regular-season matchup against Stanford, Grice was held to 50 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown, but on the year he leads the Sun Devils in carries, yards and touchdowns. Foster is slightly smaller than Grice, and is shifty in space -- al-a Shane Vereen with the Patriots. Foster is second on the team with 54 receptions. Don’t sleep on his rushing ability. Last week against Arizona, Foster ran for 124 yards on 23 rushes.
No Surprise here
When Stanford lines up on offense, they generally run the ball – averaging 42 rushes per game to just 23 passes. Running back Tyler Gaffney leads the team in rushing -- and No. 8 in the nation -- with 1485 rushing yards, along with a team-high 18 total touchdowns. Stanford will employ jumbo packages where they split an extra tackle or guard – last week it was All-American David Yankey – out as an extra tight end. Stanford ranks No. 26 in the nation in total rushing yards per game with 208.5. Arizona State, led by defensive tackle Will Sutton, is No. 27 defending the ground game, allowing 133.8 yards per contest.
Fast pace devil offense
The Sun Devils have averaged 44 points per game over their current seven-game win streak, that includes wins against ranked opponents UCLA and Washington. The Pac-12 South champions will utilize three and four wide receiver sets in their spread-based offense, counting on quarterback Taylor Kelly to make quick decisions passing and running – Kelly is second on the team with 437 rush yards. Overall the redshirt junior quarterback has played well, but he has been susceptible to interceptions, throwing at least one pick in eight of the team’s 11 games against FBS opponents.
The Cardinal defense has been dominant this year, limiting opponents to a mere 19 points per game -- No. 12 in the country. The defense is led by two linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Skov leads the team with 91 tackles and will be essential in slowing down the Devil offense. Up front, the Cardinal defense bodes two massive defensive ends – Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro – both of whom help limit opponents to 87.3 rush yards a game, good for the third least in America.
Matchup: Finkenberg vs. Murphy
The Stanford linebacker struggled last week against future NFL lineman Zack Martin, with just two tackles. Prior to last week no one has slowed the senior, as he leads all of FBS football with 13 sacks. Finkenberg, a senior, has been a four-year starter for the Sun Devils at right guard and now left tackle. The former high school baseball standout is athletic and well-versed in blocking top-tier pass rushers – previously facing J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, Dion Jordan among others. Earlier this week Finkenberg was voted First Team All-Pac-12 by the conference's coaches.
Matchup: Montgomery vs. ASU secondary
The 6-foot-two, 215-pound Ty Montgomery has been the go-to playmaker for the Stanford offense in 2013. The receiver leads the team with 53 receptions, 868 yards and nine touchdowns which includes a five catch, 160 yard, five touchdown performance in the “Big Game”. In his previous contest versus Arizona State, Montgomery had four receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns. The Sun Devil secondary will look to stop the standout junior on Saturday. Arizona State limits opponents to 217.2 passing yards a game and just 6.75 yards per attempt.