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Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Stanford Cardinal Preview and Prediction

Bryce Love

Bryce Love

After suffering back-to-back losses to fall to 1-2, both Arizona State and Stanford needed big performances on Sept. 23. Each came through in Pac-12 play.

Arizona State Sun Devils WR N'Keal Harry

Arizona State's Brandon Ruiz connected on a 41-yard field goal with 2:33 remaining, earning himself Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week and elevating the Sun Devils to a 37-35 win over No. 24 Oregon. The victory was Arizona State's first against the Ducks since 2004.

Stanford came in with a much more favorable streak against UCLA than Arizona State's against Oregon. Nevertheless, the Cardinal needed to beat the Bruins for a 10th straight time to avoid an 0-2 Pac-12 start.

Bryce Love's 263 rushing yards paced the Cardinal in a 58-34 rout, garnering Love Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors and getting Stanford back on track after losses to USC and San Diego State.

One of the two will continue on that trajectory of positive momentum this week at Stanford.

Arizona State at Stanford

Kickoff Time: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 4 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks

Line: Stanford -15

Three Things to Watch

1. Running with the Devils 

In its first two games under first-year coordinator Phil Bennett, the Arizona State defense surrendered five yards per carry to New Mexico State, and 6.49 yards per carry to San Diego State. In the initial few games after giving up 511 yards to rival Arizona to close the 2016 season, the Sun Devils were not off to the most awe-inspiring start.

What's more, San Diego State's Rashaad Penny was the first in a stretch of four Heisman Trophy-quality running backs Arizona State was facing, with Oregon bringing Royce Freeman to Tempe last week, and Washington's Myles Gaskin awaiting after the bye week.

But the Sun Devils played a great game against Freeman and the Ducks, limiting him to 81 yards and Oregon to four yards per carry as a team.

Arizona State may face the toughest challenge in this stretch in the coming week, however, with Bryce Love rumbling in as college football's top rusher. Love is averaging 196.75 yards per game after his performance vs. UCLA.

2. Big-play Harry

In its losses, Stanford got peppered with consistent ground attacks that countered the Cardinal's typical power style with a similar look. Arizona State's approach varies dramatically from that of San Diego State and USC. Coming in with the nation's No. 112-ranked rushing offense, and averaging just 2.61 yards per carry, the Sun Devils' best bet to attack Stanford's defense is with explosive plays.

It's a good thing for them, then, that they have one of the nation's premier big-play threats.

Wide receiver N'Keal Harry (above, right) is a prototypical possession receiver both in terms of size (6-4, 216) and cumulative output (14.06 ypc), but he's shown a knack for explosive plays in his time at Arizona State, as well. Never was that ability more evident than against Oregon, when Harry's seven catches went for 170 yards and a touchdown.

Harry's combination of size, strength and speed pose an interesting test for the Stanford secondary, not unlike that which the Cardinal faced from San Diego State. The Aztecs used tight ends of comparable size to Harry, namely David Wells, to supplement the run game.

In Arizona State's case, Harry's explosiveness can be a threat in lieu of a run game.

3. Starting and finishing strong

Both Arizona State and Stanford have struggled somewhat at the close of games. In its loss at USC, the Cardinal played neck-and-neck with the Trojans through the first half, but were battered after intermission. Against San Diego State, the Aztecs asserted themselves on the final drive for a game-winning score, while the Stanford offense sputtered to get going beyond a long Love run.

The UCLA game was vintage Stanford under David Shaw, putting on the squeeze as the game went along.

For Arizona State, letting off the gas in the second half has been an issue. The Sun Devils nearly allowed New Mexico State to rally from a double-digit-point deficit in the fourth quarter; Oregon, too. In between, Arizona State's losses to San Diego State and Texas Tech were the result of slow starts.

Thus far in 2017, Arizona State has yet to both start and finish a game strong. That trend continuing will doom the Sun Devils against the Cardinal on The Farm.

Final Analysis

Arizona State beat Stanford for the first time since 2008 when these programs last met, but that was three years ago. In 2014, the Sun Devils were at their peak under head coach Todd Graham, winning 10 games for a second consecutive year and contending for a second straight Pac-12 South title. That 2014 Stanford team was the worst in David Shaw's tenure as head coach.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

The Cardinal's 1-2 start was uncharacteristic, but they rebounded in a way one would expect of a Shaw-coached team. With Bryce Love rolling and the defense and special teams both making big contributions against UCLA, Stanford seemed to scratch the surface on its lofty potential.

Arizona State looked the best it has in a while in the Oregon game, but the Ducks presented a more favorable matchup with their fast-paced style. Stanford's physicality should cause Arizona State problems in the same way San Diego State controlled tempo three weeks ago. The Sun Devils' struggles establishing a run game this season should prevent them from moving the ball effectively on the Stanford defense.

Prediction: Stanford 34, Arizona State 17

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.