Sun Devils face stiff test after bye week
Oct. 13, 2014
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State had a week to bask in the glow of their improbable victory over Southern California with a Hail Mary, as replays of one of the most dramatic wins in program history practically played on a loop.
With the bye week over, it's now time to sharpen the Sun Devils' focus with another big game on the docket.
Up next is No. 23 Stanford, a disciplined, physical team that has given the 17th-ranked Sun Devils all kinds of problems in recent years.
"Obviously, it's all got to come together this week," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said Monday.
Arizona State's bye week seems to have come at a good time. The Sun Devils went through an emotional tilt-a-whirl, crushed 62-27 at home by No. 11 UCLA on Sept. 25, followed by a 38-34 win over No. 16 USC on a last-ditch pass that Jaelen Strong hauled down in the end zone.
But the jumbled world of college football swirled during Arizona State's week off, and the Sun Devils (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) benefited, moving up three spots in The Associated Press poll and finding themselves in the thick of the Pac-12 South race, tied with Arizona a half-game behind division leader USC.
The rest of the season doesn't get any easier, though. The Sun Devils still have a string of tough games left in the parity-filled Pac-12 and a Nov. 8 date with No. 5 Notre Dame.
"Every week it's a single-elimination tournament," Graham said. "Obviously, we're in control of our own destiny. I'm real confident in my guys and where we're at as they continue to improve."
Arizona State, which relies on speed and athleticism, certainly will have to improve the way it has played a bruising Stanford team in recent years.
In a conference filled with spread-out, high-scoring offenses, the Cardinal take more of an old-school approach. Stanford wears teams down with its power game, and opponents have a hard time preparing for it because the style is so rare these days.
The Sun Devils have lost four straight to Stanford, a streak that dates to 2008. The Cardinal beat Arizona State twice last season, 42-28 in Northern California and 38-14 in the Pac-12 Championship game in Tempe.
"What makes them difficult is they're one of the best teams in the league, one of the most physical and most disciplined," Graham said of Stanford. "They're not going to beat themselves."
Even after a week off, the Sun Devils still face questions about who is the starting quarterback.
Three-year starter Taylor Kelly returned to practice last week for the first time since injuring his right foot against Colorado on Sept. 13. But the senior has been limited in practice and it's still up in the air whether he'll be ready to play Saturday.
If he's not, Arizona State will be in good hands.
Junior Mike Bercovici waited three years for his shot at starting and has made the most of it. In the last two games, Bercovici has thrown for 998 yards and eight touchdowns, with two interceptions.
He plays a game that's a bit different than Kelly, relying on his arm a little more than Kelly's do-everything approach, but has been a good fit for Arizona State's up-tempo offense.
"Taylor has years' experience in winning games and to move the down markers in very different ways, whether it be with his legs, the run game, making good decisions," Graham said. "I think Berc's just a great extension of him, obviously brings a lot to it from the standpoint of the rhythm passing game. They complement each other very well."